Although it must pain them to admit it, Thievery Corporation may never shake the martini-swilling, lounge-lazing stigma that’s plagued their LPs for more than a decade. It’s not for lack of effort. Ever since their 2002 album, The Richest Man In Babylon, the D.C. duo have gone to great lengths to graft their socially conscious beliefs onto a crowd-pleasing bed of live loops and globe-trotting sample banks. In a perfect world, they’d be known as conspiracy theorists who happen to have one hell of a record collection; instead, they’re the impeccably-dressed, groove-locked guys responsible for such seminal downtempo records as Sounds From the Thievery Hi-Fi and The Mirror Conspiracy.
That probably won’t change with Culture of Fear, although things don’t get much more Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You than the surveillance camera on its sleeve or a title track that starts off with Mr. Lif questioning the everlasting scarlet shade of our terror alert system: “Can’t a brother get yellow, man? Just for like two months or something? Goddamn. I’m sick of that.” As preachy as that may sound on paper, Lif’s guest spot pulls Thievery Corporation out of their comfort zone like previous collaborations with David Byrne (“The Heart’s a Lonely Hunter”) and Perry Farrell (“The Revolution Solution”). It’s a must-listen as a result, a caustic counterpoint to familiar strains of reggae (“Stargazer,” “False Flag Dub”), R&B (“Take My Soul,” “Where It All Starts”) and cloud-scraping instrumentals (“Light Flares,” “Tower Seven”) that go down like pure comfort food.