I purchased The Richest Man in Babylon [discogs.com] sometime in late 2002 or early 2003 while I was living in Dupont Circle in DC. I purchased it at a music store that I can’t remember the name of, it was near Kramers bookstore. I spent a lot of time browsing both Kramers and that music store; several other albums I plan to cover came from there. I spent a lot of evenings and weekend afternoons sitting at Xandos reading books from Kramers and listening to albums I purchased at that music store.
I purchased The Richest Man because while I was living in Dupont I spent many evenings chilling at the Eighteenth Street Lounge [18thstlounge.com]. The Eighteenth Street Lounge, or ESL, is a story in itself. Hidden behind a plain street level door, sandwiched between a mattress store and… something else at the time. Next to the door was a brass plate that said “Eighteenth Street Lounge, Washington DC”. Opening the door and climbing the stairs led you to the best live music and DJ place in DC. The ambiance was amazing: an eclectic mix of baroque and thrift store couches and tables, damask wallpapers and exposed brick walls, light from electric candelabras and chandlers, a well stocked bar and the best sound system you can imagine.
So what’s the connection to the Richest Man in Babylon? The band, Thievery Corporation, started when one of the lounge co-owners, Rob Garza, met Eric Hilton at the ESL. ESL played a lot of Thievery Corporation music and the music that inspired them. So I went searching for the album. ESL has it’s own record label, also ESL, that besides Thievery Corporation also released other amazing artists like Federico Aubele and Les Hommes.
I purchased both The Mirror Conspiracy [discogs.com] and The Richest Man in Babylon at the same time. Richest Man became my favorite and still remains my favorite Thievery Corporation album. The music is an eclectic mix of influences, Latin American jazz and bossa nova, indian and middle eastern traditional music, with Jamaican dub most evident in the vocals. All layered over chill out electronic beats.
Any album on my best list has to be one I can, and do, listen too from start to finish, no dud songs. And Richest Man is defiantly there. From the opening sounds of Heaven’s Goona Burn Your Eyes, through to the end of Until the Morning. This is one of the best chill albums out there. The electronic beats blend with the world music precession and synth melodies providing a timeless background for the vocals. Often the vocals are non-english, like on Omid, which lend it an even more chilled out sound to me.
The best songs on the album are probably “Heaven’s Gonna Burn Your Eyes” and “The Richest Man in Babylon” followed closely by “All That We Perceive” and “Un Simple Histoire”. But have a listen from beginning to end. It’s all amazing.
Listen on Apple Music:
Listen on Spotify: