Review Summary: The Future Sound of London blow off mainstream success in favor of releasing a dark and unsettling album of ambient soundscapes.
Back in the 90’s when Electronica bands suddenly started selling millions of albums people began calling it the next big thing; the thing that was going to kill Grunge the same way Grunge had killed metal less then a decade earlier… it never happened. If there were ever a group of musicians who didn’t want the exposure, it seems to have been the bands lumped into the newly-formed “Electronica” genre. The Prodigy
disappeared and didn’t release another album for almost seven years, Front 242
released two albums of the most noisy and aggressive material in their entire career, Underworld
released album after album of chilled-out 10-plus minute songs, and The Orb
just got more and more strange. The Future Sound of London
is also guilty of doing their best to force the mainstream to leave them alone. After a critically acclaimed double album full of soothing soundscapes called Lifeforms
, people predicted that their next album would place them firmly in the mainstream; these people hadn’t heard the new album called Dead Cities
Instead of more soothing ambient soundscapes, people were given a dark, depressing album with many moments of dissonance. Whereas the previous album made you feel like you were on some other planet’s lush jungle environment simply watching the daily happenings, this one made you feel like you were indeed in a dead city, and the city had not just died peacefully. Disembodied voices are heard during the songs such as the voice that says, “I had killed a man, a man that looked like me,” or the voice of a child whispering “Make me believe I’m not going to die”. In addition, the songs took on a darker edge due to their tones, somber melodies, and the nature of their random noises. Another element that adds to the unease created on this album is due to the increased use of dissonant sounds, as well as the start/stop nature of the beats that keeps the listener slightly on edge. The disembodied voices, darker synth sounds, and use of dissonance all combined to create an album that could never break into the mainstream, and it’s a great album.
It starts off with “Herd Killing” which has a start/stop beat with random noises played over it; it’s a short song and the perfect element to bring you into the heart of this city. As soon as that song ends and you’ve entered the city, a voice “welcomes” you with the words mentioned earlier, “I had killed a man, a man that looked like me.” As soon as the words are uttered a dark, deep synth line comes in over some chaotic, yet subdued beats. As it progresses it subtly morphs by adding different sounds including higher pitched squeals, additional synths, a depressing flute melody, and more random voices. It ends with one of those voices that seems like it is singing from out of the depths of some place it can’t escape.
After another track meant to help you continue wandering through this dead city we come to the “single” of the album called “We Have Explosives”. First of all, other then having the most consistent beat on the album there is nothing that could be called “single quality” about it. It is the noisiest track on the album, with almost every sound being some kind of atonal noise, with additional samples that include an echoing robotic voice saying “We Have Explosives” and another person simply yelling “alright” at various intervals. Also, whereas other songs on the album slowly morph as they progress, this song just wallows in redundancy; basically what you hear in the first two minutes is the same as what you hear in the last two minutes. It is definitely the weakest track on the album and also ruins the vibe of the album overall.
After the “single” that should have really just been left off the album, things get back on track with the song “Everyone in the World is Doing Something Without Me”. This song is just a transitional track that consists of someone half singing the title of the song over an eerie synth line before fading into a few female voices that signal the coming of the best song on the album, “My Kingdom”. This song makes it feel like you’re now moving through the city and seeing various aspects as they pass by. The main feeling of movement is due to the rolling nature of the beats, as well as some reversed beats that give the impression of things passing by you. Again, the music on top of these beats is dark and made up of random sounds as much as it is actual melodies. The element that makes this one of the best songs is that the melodies and sounds will stick in your head long after the song has ended, and they also do a great job of continuing to create the atmosphere of the album.
The journey continues on in much the same fashion as previous songs, utilizing disquieting samples of voices to accentuate random sounds and dark synth lines all playing over start/stop beats that often change rhythm throughout a song. Other then the single, “We Have Explosives”, this album does not fail in its goal to bring you through this city and have you experience all the tribulations within it. Anyone who has experienced Ulver
’s Perdition City
album and liked it owes it to themselves to find this because it is my opinion that Dead Cities
had more then a little influence on that album. For others that aren’t usually into electronic music, but do like darker sounds, this may be a good starting point for them as well. The people that might have the biggest problem with this album are the ones that are used to the happier, more energetic electronica that gets played on the radio from time to time. For them, if they can give it a chance and get past the dark atmosphere and lack of consistent beats, they may find their journey through the dead city an enjoyable one too.