Ambient music used to be simple. As on the pioneering Brian Eno records of the early '80s, most of it consisted of a steady electronic stream of burps and bleeps over a subtle (or nonexistent) rhythmic bed. The music traversed that ultrathin line between being innovative and yet utterly banal, and you either loved it or hated it for that quality.
Ambient is no longer an underground phenomenon. Two years ago, the French Musical duo known as Deep Forest merged easy-listening ambient ooze with Pygmy chanting. Called Deep Forest, the album meditative music for the media-overload age became a left-field cult hit. It demonstrated the genre isn't a musical dead-end street, while pinpointing the conundrum of ambient music in the '90s: How do you continue to make intentionally boring chill-out music interesting?
For Deep Forest, the answer amounts to repeating the formula. For the group's follow-up, Boheme, musician-producers Michel Sanchez and Eric Mouquet ditched the Pygmies in favor of Eastern European and Asian folkies. The juxtaposition of the music's mild-mannered throb and the pinched, nasal throat-singing style makes for quirky ear candy; songs like ''Bohemian Ballet'' sound like a bunch of boozy, woozy shepherds who just wandered into an after-hours dance club. Deep Forest don't insult these foreign cultures or reduce them to novelty acts. But once again, the gimmick wears thin after the first few songs. Now, maybe if the Pygmies invade Hungary for the next album... B-