Review Summary: Mixing 70's Prog and Psychdelia with their signature sound, FSOL have created another high quality, yet challenging, album for their fans.
I like The Future Sound of London for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is because you never know what to expect from these guys. They started out with an above average Techno album, and followed it up with a Double CD full of strange otherworldly soundscapes called Lifeforms
. From there they released Dead Cities
which was also a collection of soundscapes but they were dark and macabre instead of light and fun. So the question was, “Where do they go from here”. After six years FSOL came back with an answer and their biggest curve ball yet. The Isness
takes the strange sounds of Lifeforms
and combines them with 70’s era Progressive Rock and mellow Psychdelia to create one of the more original albums I’ve heard in awhile.
I bought this album online without hearing a note and without having read one review because I trust these guys to release quality material, and I don’t feel let down in the least, but I was surprised when the first track began. It started normal enough with some spacey keyboards, a flute melody, sitar sounds, and crashing waves in the background, but then the beat came in. The beat sounded like an actual acoustic drum set as opposed to a drum machine, and not only that, it was actually cohesive and coherent which is something that hasn’t happened since FSOL’s debut album. The final thing that threw me off on this song was the laid-back electric guitar solo that runs through the latter half of the song. When the entire thing turned out to be cohesive both in beat and in melody, but still strange at the same time I was definitely surprised, but if I thought this song was a departure from their past, the next one confirmed that things were only going to get stranger.
“The Mello Hippo Disco Show” starts with keyboards but they’re actually playing a melody as opposed to just making sounds. Then there are more acoustic drums playing a chill Trip Hop style beat while an electric guitar plays another smooth solo, and then actual vocals come in. FSOL have used “vocals” in their songs before but they weren’t ever a main element; they were just another sample used sparingly and randomly. In this song they’re a main component, and they’re actually quite good. The vocalist on this song (and subsequent songs, it turns out) reminds me a lot of Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree
) in that they’re mid-ranged, calm and have a slight English accent to them. Near the end of the song it hit me that this really does sound like Porcupine Tree’s more mellow psychedelic moments combined with the strange sounds and tendencies of FSOL’s Lifeforms
The centerpiece of the album, and one of the best songs, is the fifteen-minute track, “The Galaxial Pharmaceutical”. It starts out with a four-minute instrumental section that features tripped out synth sounds, a subdued acoustic guitar riff, trumpet, flute, and a psychedelic guitar solo. After those first four minutes all of the instruments fade out and we’re left with a simple piano melody and more actual vocals, sounding like it could have come directly from a Porcupine Tree or Pink Floyd
album until the strange sounds come back in. After a few moments the song becomes more active by bringing in calm acoustic drums, electric guitar solos, saxophone, female backing vocals and the strange sounds and structuring you’d expect from FSOL. It really is a great song and has enough going on in it to keep you interested and to justify its length.
To me, this album comes off like Dark Side of the Moon
reinterpreted for the new millennium or an entire album full of the more mellow and psychedelic side of Porcupine Tree, but with a healthy dose of strange sounds and computer manipulations. It is actually easier for me to recommend this CD to people into those two bands then it is to recommend it to those that have known and loved FSOL’s past releases. I’m one of those people that fall into both categories so it’s hard for me to know which side loves this album; I only know that I do. I love how they’ve mixed the more conventional instruments such as acoustic guitar, brass instruments, actual vocals and laid-back electric guitar solos with the strange and random sounds of their Lifeforms
album, and how they neatly wrapped it all up in the structure reminiscent of 70’s-style Prog/Psychedela.