There comes a time in every ANTIwriter's life were a little diversity is needed. Acting on a whim and a genre description, I picked (almost at random) a CD by one Stephanie Sante. Described as "ambient and spacey," I was looking for "chill-out music" as I commonly refer to it. As I burrowed into the history of Stephanie Sante, the person, I found some interesting things. Sante has won numerous awards in the ambient/electronic community for her earlier works. The diverse solo artist also enjoys jazz and flamenco besides the more obvious electronic ambient music, and is well-versed in all of the schools of guitaring, having studied jazz, flamenco, and rock guitar extensively.
The new Stephanie Sante disc is a common-themed proceeding; one should be quick to note that every single track is named after some form of coffee. The music on said disc however, sounds like it has never been in a ten-mile radius of coffee. Electronic, spacey, and largely free-form ambience is swirled lightly with polite world beats and quiet, mellow, contemporary guitars. Due to the completely instrumental nature of this CD, the tracks can be largely hit or miss. The tracks can either stand out due to the intense work placed into their creation, or, less favorably, seamlessly melt into each other like coffee being drenched in well-mixed cream. Regardless of the individual tracks, one has to be in the right state of mind for this album. Of that there can be no question; one couldn't listen to this while craving some serious headbanging music for example.
The soft and delicate "Hot Coco" starts the album with a horribly weak sigh. The track takes a jittery world beat, a set of clean and crystalline electronica samples, and some strummed, clean guitar chords. Nothing really made me invest true energy into this tune, and it feels like coffee sitting in the pot a bit long, i.e. flat.
"Chai Chai" is much better fare; an ever-so-slightly Latin beat is crossed with ambient and soothing new wave music textures and clear, almost transparent twinkles of strings on the spaced-out guitar.
"Cappachino" has a sort of electronica lounge music feel to it; one can definitely picture a guitarist playing this on a sunny noon while a barista mixes a tasty and refreshing coffee drink. "Vanilla Steamer" has literally thumping percussion beats and classy, restrained guitar work.
"Cup of Joe" is a sweet song. It's soft yet jazzy stylings allow Sante to really stretch back in time to her earlier love of guitars and guitars only. Well placed and mature, stylish sampling complete the puzzle and the result is an excellent, standout track.
"Mocha Latte" sprinkles liberal amounts sunny warmth, refreshing vigor, and relaxing ambient guitar pieces over a well-rested drum beat. "Macchiato" is another strange piece of work; the guitars sound rather odd and psychedelic while random chimes twinkle in and out like visiting stars on a nighttime patio.
"Frappe" has an almost stoner bossa nova vibe going for it, and it's mix of vertigo-suffering guitars, catchy world beats, and simplistic arrangements make it a quiet joy to listen to.
"Cafe' Au Lait" has a rainy day melancholy to it, right down to it's electronica backbone. "Caramel Latte" glides by on a jungle beat mindset, complete with elegant guitars and a sort of energetic undertone. "Expresso" sounds a bit weak, almost like a redone "Hot Coco," especially in the tone, feel, and style of the guitars. Some highly irregular samples though offer a jolt of surprise, and all is not lost.
"Double Expresso" is a long, highly entertaining, and definitely strange world ambient fusion. It's a nice, energetic, and light end to a mildly entertaining album.
Everything on Coffee Culture is well-done, professional, and graceful. However, some of the tracks have a slight tendency to blend with each other, and really, the instrumental angle is hard for any act to pull off and Sante could have trimmed a bit of the fat here for a more robust blend of songs. Without words or (at times) truly diverse music, one can lose place of where in the CDs maze they are. Regardless, Coffee Culture smells as fresh as the first pot of joe in the morning, and it has none of the anxious or unhealthy buzz. I'd recommend this to anyone who listens solely to "chill" music or who wants something playing in the background of the local Starbucks....plus those will a little tension to let go of. Either way, Coffee Culture sounds like it is the premium blend.