Chill Out (KLF album)Chill Out, released by The KLF in February 1990, is one of the earliest ambient house concept albums. The music portrays a mythical night-time journey to the U.S. Gulf Coast states beginning in Texas and ending in Louisiana.
Chill Out was conceived as a continuous piece of music, with original KLF music interwoven with samples from songs by Elvis Presley, Fleetwood Mac, Acker Bilk, Van Halen, 808 State and field recordings of Tuvan throat singers.
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According to the sleeve notes, Chill Out was recorded "live on location" at Trancentral, the spiritual home of the KLF", their studio in the basement of KLF member Jimmy Cauty's squat in Stockwell, South London.
The KLF have stated that the album was recorded in a 44-minute live take. Said Cauty, "There's no edits on it. Quite a few times we'd get near the end and make a mistake and so we'd have to go all the way back to the beginning and set it all up again". According to Cauty's co-founder of The KLF, Bill Drummond, the album took two days to put together. Record Collector compared The KLF's production method to that of established electronic musicians: "While electronic dinosaurs like Jean Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze were walling themselves in with banks and banks of synthesizers, computers and electronic gadgetry the KLF were doing the opposite—making a crafted work like Chill Out with the bare necessities of musical survival."
After recording, the duo thought the sound to be evocative of a trip through the American Deep South. Drummond said "I've never been to those places. I don't know what those places are like, but in my head, I can imagine those sounds coming from those places, just looking at the map." The titles of the parts are poetic descriptions—often complete sentences—incorporating statements of time, place and situation along the Gulf Coast journey.
Chill Out is a single continuous musical piece having many distinctive sections, each of which either segues into or introduces the next. The album as a whole is a progression, with percussion gradually introduced during the second half. The album has many recurring musical elements, which unify and merge the parts into the collective whole. Common characteristics of most parts include ethereal background synthesizers, the use of echo and pitch bend, samples of nature and transport, and the punctuation of soft synthesizer loops by sudden flourishes of harmonious sound. The Deep South is variously represented using original pedal steel contributions from Graham Lee and emotionally charged samples of US radio broadcasts: an evangelist's sermon, a range of samples of a very intense salesman, and, in " label=none "," is Spanish for "Eternal Dawn".}} the detailed news report of a fatal road accident.
Despite the specific US settings, Chill Out is multi-ethnic, its journey taking in pastoral shepherds, Russian broadcasts, Tuvan throat singers ("Dream Time in Lake Jackson"), exotic birds, and an African-sounding original female vocal from The JAMs' 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?) that later became The KLF's "Justified and Ancient".
Elements of The KLF's "Pure Trance" singles "3 a.m. Eternal" and "Last Train to Trancentral" are brought to the fore during the second half of the album, progressing from the minimalist synths of the opening half. Similarly, samples of other artists' work appear as the composition develops, harmonising with The KLF's original instrumentation.
Identified samplesThe samples used in Chill Out contribute fundamentally to the character of the composition. In particular, the recurring sampled sound effects of rolling stock and other transport illustrate the journey concept, often during segues between parts of the composition. Many of these effects are taken from the 1987 CD version of Elektra Records' Authentic Sound Effects Volume 2. The tracks used are "Crossing Bells and Horn with Electric Train Pass" and "Short Freight Train Pass", along with processed versions of "F18 Diamond Fly-By", "Dodge Van Starts, Drives Out", and "Surf". Samples of American, British and Russian radio stations are also used, including the BBC pips and a jingle from Tommy Vance's Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio 1: "Rock radio into the nineties and beyond". Some of the more obscure sounds (Tuvan throat singers and Basque shepherds in the Pyrenees) come from the Saydisc Records soundtrack of the 1980s Disappearing World series on Granada TV in the UK. The phrase "Your feeling of helplessness is your best friend, savage" is taken from the 1957 science fiction film The Brain from Planet Arous.
The album features samples of distinctive melodies from the musical recordings of other artists: Elvis Presley's 1969 UK No. 2 single "In the Ghetto", Fleetwood Mac's 1968 UK No. 1 single "Albatross", as well as "Oh Well Part II", and Acker Bilk's 1961 US No. 1 single "Stranger on the Shore" all feature prominently, in each case set to an accompaniment of original music. The composers of these hits receive co-writing credit for "Elvis on the Radio Steel Guitar in My Soul", "3am Somewhere out of Beaumont", and "A Melody from a Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back" respectively, and the performers are thanked in the Chill Out sleevenotes. Boy George's band Jesus Loves You is also thanked for a sample from the single "After the Love", which features on "3am Somewhere out of Beaumont". Short samples from the Van Halen instrumental "Eruption" emerge throughout the song "A Melody from a Past Life Keeps Pulling Me Back". Shortly after the 2:00 mark of "The Lights of Baton Rouge Pass By", a sample from the theme music of The Big Country can be heard as well as Pacific State by 808 State.
Reception and legacyIan Cranna of Q, in a review published at the time of the album's release, described Chill Out as an "impressionist soundtrack" whose "spartan but melodic electronic strains ease gently through wide open spaces", and concluded that the album is "both imaginative in itself and successful in inducing a blissed out mood of peace and relaxation (at least at night)." NME called the album "a riot of running water, birdsong and electronic womb music". Ian McCann of The Face proposed that if the listener is not under the influence of drugs, the album sounds "hopelessly pompous and almost classical."
In a 1994 retrospective review, Qs Andrew Collins described The KLF as "ahead of their time" and added that "the fact that Chill Out was seen largely as a urinary extraction exercise at the time when such sound-painting now shapes young careers lends poignancy to its more balmy yet knowing moments." The Times called the album The KLF's "comedown classic", while John Bush of AllMusic awarded the album five stars and cited it as "one of the essential ambient albums". In an "On Second Thought" review in Stylus Magazine, writer Scott Plagenhoef found Chill Out to be "less a morning after and more the slow awakening to a new day" and an album which "slowly unfolds its charms".
In a 1996 feature, Mixmag named Chill Out the fifth best dance album of all time, citing Jimmy Cauty and Alex Paterson as having "kickstarted" ambient music with their DJ sets at the "seminal" house night "Land of Oz". Dom Philips of Mixmag described Chill Out as "a gorgeous patchwork of sound, noise and melody ... the samples are carefully woven into a beautiful spider's web of sound." Ira Robbins of Trouser Press was less favorable in his assessment of Chill Out, likening it to "an accidental recording of 1970 Pink Floyd sessions during which all the participants have either left or fallen asleep", adding that "it's the pleasantly attenuated soundtrack to a non-existent film that is easily forgotten." In 2008, Pitchfork included "Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard" in The Pitchfork 500, their list of the 500 greatest songs between 1977 and 2006, and later ranked the track at number 80 in their "Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s" list in 2010.
In July 2004, UK performance collective Popdamage "reconstructed" Chill Out as a live performance at The Big Chill music festival, recreating many of the album's vocal and musical samples live on-stage.
ThemesThe use of a journey as a unifying musical or conceptual thread featured several times in Cauty and Drummond's work, including The White Room, "Last Train to Trancentral", "Justified and Ancient" and "America: What Time Is Love?". Cauty's Space and The Orb's debut album, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld also employ the journey concept.
Sheep, which appear both on the recording of Chill Out - as guest vocalists according to Scott Piering's press release - and in its sleeve artwork, became a theme of The KLF's output, featuring in the ambient video Waiting, The White Room album artwork, and later — in a macabre gesture — after their controversial appearance at the 1992 Brit Awards ceremony. Drummond credits the sleeve of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother as providing inspiration for the artwork of Chill Out.
Bill Drummond has documented his affinity for pedal steel and country music, stating that although he has "loved all sorts of music, ... country music is the only music [he's] been totally able to identify with", and declaring: "the weep of a pedal steel guitar is the sound of heartstrings being torn".
According to Drummond, the album and album sleeve has "the vibe of the rave scene over here [in the UK]. When we're having the big Orbital raves out in the country, and you're dancing all night and then the sun would come up in the morning, and then you'd be surrounded by this English rural countryside ... we wanted something that kind of reflected that, that feeling the day after the rave, that's what we wanted the music for"..