Biosphere :: The Petrified Forest (Biophon)

On the surface The Petrified Forest may seem a minor work, but only in terms of its brevity. Biosphere continues to branch out in discrete and experimental directions, allowing the listener choice and scope, such that if his more conceptual or sound-design based works aren’t their thing, there’s a more playful or traditional electronic affair like this.

Thought 2015’s N-Plants was a low-key Biosphere release? Well it’s got nothing on Geir Jenssen’s latest, The Petrified Forest, released through his Biophon label in conjunction with Kudos Records. More of a mini-album or lengthy EP than a new full length, it was at least preceded by a full-blown 7″ single release together with an affecting accompanying video in the form of “Black Mesa.”

Biosphere’s work seems to be quite strictly bifurcated into two quite unrelated strands at this point: his more experimental, field-recording driven, almost art-house ambient work that has formed the majority of his more recent canon since releasing through Touch, and his poppier, dancier, trancier style of music that is found here. We’re lucky to get this at all, in fact, given that it arrives in the wake of 2016’s gloomy, minimal Departed Glories.

The Petrified Forest picks up where N-Plants left off, those rubbery bass notes and arid synths at the core of the album’s overall aesthetic, no surprise given the name. The sinewave and analogue bleep that launches “Drifter” feels like a nod to earlier Radiophonic Workshop experiments, but is soon underpinned by that power-plant buzz and then looped orchestral samples.

The single “Black Mesa” is the probably the finest example of this strand of Biosphere’s work in decades, and also—if the word can be applied to anything Jenssen does—the most commercial since “Novelty Waves” and it’s appropriation for Levi Jeans adverts. The vocal samples here are sheer perfection, Joan Lorring’s disillusioned drawl “Here in this desert, it’s just the same thing over and over again” is repeated like a mantra, while Leslie Howard’s beautifully straight English accent interjects “Black Mesa… how intriguing” with the most breathtaking timing. The accompanying video, containing numerous clips from the short film that inspired the album complements it all beautifully, the flash/clip timing adding to the overall hypnotic, deja-vu effect.

It’s a shame, then, that when “Turned To Stone” tries to achieve the same effect it falls so flat. The vocal samples appear almost haphazardly, to high in the mix and the whole piece sounds rushed. It may be the one weak link on the album, but when you’ve only got six tracks to enjoy, even one minor clanger is such a pity.

The Petrified Forest is a genuinely haunting and oddly moving experience throughout, more samples of Bette Davis and Leslie Howard all-pervading once the jazz-tinged, brushwork and vaguely Substrata-esque weightlessness of the title track has drifted by. Even the strange, squawking synth-horns of “Just One Kiss” are tempered by their romantic dialogue.

On the surface The Petrified Forest may seem a minor work, but only in terms of its brevity. Biosphere continues to branch out in discrete and experimental directions, allowing the listener choice and scope, such that if his more conceptual or sound-design based works aren’t their thing, there’s a more playful or traditional electronic affair like this. More of all of this please.

The Petrified Forest is available on Biophon.

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