Review Summary: Welcome to the next level.Lifeforms
. The sprawling 2 disc LP by the Future Sound of London
(Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans) that forever changed the way I look at music. How I arrived at this album and why it clicked so clearly with me I do not know. The strange atmosphere has puzzled and confused listeners who are not sure what to do with the bizarre set of sounds they’re presented with. There’s nothing catchy about it whatsoever, and the change of pace, the lack of structure, the sense that everything is so far away makes listening to even 1 of the 2 discs an incredibly exhausting experience.
But therein lies its brilliance. The atmosphere created is unparalleled, the feeling of being elsewhere, detached in a beautifully alien jungle, is so powerful and real that it renders listeners completely disoriented. Delving into the album gives the world a different tint; everything feels so vibrant and full of life. Avatar-esque surroundings are brought to life through aural stimuli every bit as gorgeously as in James Cameron’s visual representation. But unlike Avatar, which relied on expensive gadgetry to create something artificial, Cobain and Dougans know just how to push listeners into their plane, impressing new and beautiful surroundings whenever a sound has taken its course.
It takes ‘Cascade’ a couple minutes to begin to integrate you into your new surroundings, and as the quietly caustic ‘Ill Flower’ subtly leads into the mind-bending, spacy ‘Flak’, the album has already taken shape. But the whole thing is absolutely gripping from beginning to end. The duo manages to use silence and softness in their sound to speak, giving listeners the time to come to an understanding with what they just heard before pushing forward. While any electronic band owes part of their sound to pioneers such as Tangerine Dream
, they draw significantly from World Music as well as tropical noises that out of context don’t even sound like music at all. In some ways, their sound is similar to the colorfully rich comedown music of contemporaries The Orb
, but the extraterrestrial feel is entirely its own. And it’s mobile, it’s as full of life as a rainforest and it’s continually presenting you with a new and exciting way to look at things.
“I can hear myself … I think I’m a bit afraid … They were drowning me” is heard in clear English in the opening to ‘Among Myselves,’ displaying overtly the introspective element that often takes over. From self-awareness to fear to paranoia these words show a very human element to an album filled with the supernatural. The scattered sets of sounds that compose the majority of the album activate an incredibly wide spectrum of emotions time and time again. Noises heard at 0:35 into ‘Cerebral’ are particularly soothing and 5:25 into ‘Eggshell’ particularly empowering. And while these stand out in my mind, new realizations still happen each time I listen, having crept into my subconscious minutes before I discover what they’ve done to me.
In terms of how the duo interact, Cobain has said that he creates most of the melodies and soft sounds, while Dougans is the technology whiz who uses machines and programming to add a supernatural effect. The enigmatic group remains active today and though nothing they do will likely top this impeccable 1994 release, the last page has not yet been turned on the Future Sound of London.