"Pursuit of Happiness"
Eerie, slo-mo dance music constructed by a British DJ crew and a handful of guest vocalists. Sounds like Massive Attack, and "Remember," the third track from Groove Armada's new album, "Lovebox," bests Massive at its own spooky game by cuing a voice that's literally from beyond the grave: a sample of late Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny. That song is not typical of "Lovebox," however. Although the group is probably best known for its chill-out standard "At the River," its fourth long-player packs a lot of heat.
Andy Cato and Tom Findlay, the Armada's founders and mainstays, have expanded from an electro duo into a guitar-flaunting outfit that swaggers like a funk-rock band on "Madder" (which resembles the Clash's "The Magnificent Seven"), "Groove Is On" (with vocals by Kriminul and Neneh Cherry) and "Purple Haze" (which introduces Nappy Roots to venerable Brit-metal band Status Quo). Mid-tempo songs featuring Cherry and Richie Havens slow the pace a bit, but they're outnumbered by the dancehall reggae moves of "Final Shakedown," the neo-disco of "Easy" and the ska bounce of "But I Feel Good." Over the course of the 11 eclectic songs, the Armada's identity is sometimes shaky, but the groove remains strong.
If Weekend Players' "Pursuit of Happiness" sounds like a gentler version of Groove Armada with a single singer, it's because that's roughly what it is. The album is a collaboration between Cato, who produced and arranged, and Rachel Foster, who wrote the bulk of the lyrics and melodies. The combination of Foster's pop-jazz delivery and Cato's percolating beats suggests Everything but the Girl, although such Players' tunes as "21st Century" -- the twosome's first U.K. hit -- are less distinctive than the best of EBTG. Foster's Burt Bacharach-like odes to love, both romantic and universal, can be a little bland. The Steve Reich-sampling "I'll Be There," however, is a nifty exercise in lush-life minimalism.
-- Mark Jenkins
Both appearing Monday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Groove Armada, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8109; to hear Weekend Players, press 8110. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)