Review Summary: Environments 3 isn't quite as innovative as Lifeforms, but it is among the best ambient albums of 2010.
In a way it seems somewhat surprising that a group with records as highly acclaimed as Lifeforms
and Dead Cities
can work as The Future Sound of London has recently. That Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans have released music under a very large number of aliases doesn't exactly help, but we're talking about a duo that was quite successful commercially and a favourite of critics. And yet, they've been diligently working under the radar as of late, taking on a variety of projects which include a couple remix albums, b-sides collections (From the Archives
, the sixth of which was also released earlier in 2010), diverse forays into progressive rock, and the Environments
For those who haven't kept up with The Future Sound of London since the mid-'90s, the opening sequence of "Viewed From an Obscure Angle" will likely surprise. Completely absent from the duo's sound is the spacey ambience that in part defined Lifeforms
or the unsettling vibes of Dead Cities
. Instead, Environments 3
plays on much more minimal sound. "Viewed From an Obscure Angle", for instance, is not much more than a soothing piano melody accompanied by soft ambience and short field recordings, and in spite of all the sparseness, it's still quite vivid. This isn't a formula Cobain and Dougans adhere to completely; "Summer's Dream" sounds desolate and lonely (not unlike something you would hear on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II
), while "Absolution" relies on a more beat-heavy, in your face style. However, the album is thematically linked together, similar to Lifeforms
and Dead Cities
. Cobain and Dougans capture the environmental concept rather well, allowing them to explore a number of different sounds, while maintaining a natural sounding record. Not unlike the actual environment, Environments 3
is unpredictable and diverse; "Hall of Mirrors" is lush and peaceful before transitioning into the frantic "End of the World" and back into the more delicate atmosphere of "Sense of Being".
Despite being a bit of a departure from The Future Sound of London's more heralded albums, Environments 3
(and really, the Environments
series as a whole) stands out among the group's ever-growing discography. The generally minimalist structure of the record allows Cobain and Dougans to express a nuance of their sound not often explored, particularly as of late. It isn't quite as innovative as Lifeforms
, to be sure, but Environments 3
is certainly among the best ambient albums of 2010. Given The Future Sound of London's penchant for quality, that isn't too surprising.