Doubles down boldly on the Jamaican dub and reggae influences.
If Thievery Corporation became a household name at all, it has nothing whatsoever to do with marketing dollars or major label backing. It’s far more likely that their slowly but strongly built following emerged out of the rave scene’s chill-out rooms back in the late-90s and early-00s. Just as the events were becoming a shadow of their former selves, the patrons and fans were growing up and getting jobs in tech and the creative industries. Soon, they’d stop pirating music and start streaming it. Late night techno dance parties would become dinner parties and nothing is resilient enough to transcend those changes than down-tempo music.
It would be generous to say that they’d ever had a breakout hit but certainly “Lebanese Blonde” from 2000’s The Mirror Conspiracy, which was a staple of every DJ’s record bin, would have a huge and far-reaching impact that would help carry their name for the past two decades.
The Temple of I & I is their tenth studio release and sees them doubling down boldly on the Jamaican dub and reggae influences. In fact, it seems like calling it an influence in this case diminishes just how effective it is. The album easily stands up alongside other recent similar efforts like The Orb’s collaboration with the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Observer in the Star House. Unlike that record, however, Thievery Corporation’s music doesn’t make any attempt to bring anything unique or new to the myriad of artists that contribute here. Short of those artistic contributions, the music of this record is almost indistinguishable from what’s heard on The Mirror Conspiracy. Right down to the samples, there’s an audible similarity that goes beyond mere nostalgia. In particular, the return of Lou Lou Ghelichkhani’s mixed French-English contribution on “Time + Space” has a direct lineage back to “La Monde.” While Pam Bricker and Shana Halligan are obviously distinctly different vocalists, the whispered lounge-style vocal makes them almost indistinguishable here. You might have to look at the label to know you weren’t listening to the same singer that appeared on The Mirror Conspiracy.
Notably, the ever-busy Mr. Lif makes a welcome contribution again on two tracks with mixed results. “Ghetto Matrix” plods along with a heavy stomp and horn-decorated hook while Lif raps about themes of unity and power. The pacing is completely in sync with the rest of the record and flows nicely into the reggae number “True Sons of Zion” featuring Notch. The hook in this track is a little monotonous, but thankfully it’s held up by the strength of the verses and the unstoppable strength of the music.
Rob Garza and Eric Hilton show the sort of deft hand at down-tempo music after 20 years of exploring dub, electronica and related sounds. They’ve dialed that experience into a reggae record with elements of electronica and hip hop, which is a strong addition to their catalog. If you were an early adopter of their sound, this one may resonate more than most of their recent works as it plays to those strengths while not straying too far from their comfort zone, and that’s what chilling out is all about — the comfort.