The Future Sound of London :: Environment 5 (FSOL Digital)

Scene by scene, the album unfolds and embodies a new archetype. What carries through the record, somehow translated through these elegantly arranged pieces, is a thoughtful melancholy that Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans describe as the “space/time/dimension that exists when we die. The moment of departure.”

From its opening notes, Environment 5 exudes tremendous and powerful creativity, and a beauty that wraps you immediately in its folds, whisking you away on a journey that is simultaneously foreign and familiar. Built of sounds that hark back to traditional instruments in combination with exquisitely constructed synths, in “Point of Departure,” it’s Blade Runner meeting the Ganges, and in “Source of Uncertainty” it’s a bird flying by the window on a cold and dreary day as you drift off to an endless sleep. Each of the tracks is vivid in this way, and propels a sort of narrative through my imagination as I hear the record pass me by. Scene by scene, the album unfolds and embodies a new archetype. What carries through the record, somehow translated through these elegantly arranged pieces, is a thoughtful melancholy that Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans describe as the “space/time/dimension that exists when we die. The moment of departure.”

And it does make me think of death as I listen to it, but with a budding curiosity rather than any fear. I see the passage of human life in each of the tracks. The inclusion of tabla and violin in “In Solitude We Are Least Alone,” for instance, feels like a respectful and almost joyous funeral dirge. It comes complete with tension, resolution, and tinkling fairy-like sounds that carry the tune forward into a surreal landscape that, ultimately, ends perfectly. In the final moments of the tune, a voice appears, repeating “what the fuck was that?” until it smoothly transitions into “Views From Below The Surface,” a morose, disharmonious piano affair punctuated by a heartbeat passing, and the subtlest hints of birds, dancing almost imperceptibly in the background. The transition is truly something to behold.

“Multiples” departs again, escorting us for between “Views” and “Dying While Being Held” with a rockin’ guitar solo for just over a minute. Its brevity suits the transition perfectly. “Dying While Being Held” is an extraordinary piece of music, with prodigious variation and fantastic melodies, building cacophonously to a crashing crescendo, at the height of which it decomposes, fading to noise, and an eerily slowed utterance of “I don’t remember what happened to me.” It’s a powerful moment in the record, and smoothly leads to “Machines of the Subconscious.” The tattoo-needle alarm that pulsates below the whispering, windy synths, balances the platform for bleeps and birdsong to fly over. Clicks take over, and the windy sounds take center stage, until they die away and give the birds flight, into “Dark and Lonely Waters,” another beautiful and sad piano piece punctuated with backgrounds that build a pedestal for “Somatosensory,” which flows smoothly between subtle melodies and a tribal rhythm that pushes energetically against the slower pace of the rest of the album. “The Dust Settles” is a very literal thing, bringing the pumping energy left over from “Somatosensory” back down to the realm of the dead and dying, but maintaining and interesting and tense synth melody that leaves me with the same tension that hearing an unfinished scale leaves me. Thematically speaking, I think that is the emotion FSOL were hoping to evoke. They bring the whole theme to a head with “Moments of Isolation,” weaving elements of the album as a whole through the track. Smooth, heavily reverbed voices weave in counterpoint with saxophones, and the rhythm pics up, reintroducing plucked violins over the piano melodies and building a wide and strongly synergistic sound. “Moments of Isolation,” feels ironic, in that the track the track is so cohesive, and full, and overflowing with instrumentation, thematic shifting, and most importantly, no sound is ever presented in isolation, until the main movement of the track is done, leaving a minute of sounds fading to wind, white noise, and purity as the excellent album comes to a close.

The digital version of the album, available at FSOL Digital, comes with an additional 3-track EP, which frantically opens with “Electric Brain Storm,” featuring elements that recall earlier, high-tension IDM, as well as a nod to their 2008 release. It’s certainly a thematic shift from Environment 5, and up to the final seconds it bursts with intensity and tension. “The Final Inner Breath” moves at the speed of Environment 5, which is to say slowly, and thoughtfully, though it too reenters that post-techno realm with familiar bass synths and bouncing horn-like melodies that build in tension, and escalate to an incredibly powerful height before cascading back down slowly. As the tune ends, it’s a shock to realize how intense it grew, since the climb was so smooth. “HereAfter” opens with booming drums atop a faint melody, and settles into a fantastic groove punctuated with shifting beeps, brief chords, and and an excellent array of percussive embellishment, when it is suddenly overtaken by a wave of strings that wash over the rhythms, and surround them. The bright sound of the strings strikes a strong contrast with the rhythms, and a welcome groove settles in again before it is again overtaken by a newcomer: distorted and bold, the three-note-melody makes itself the star of the show, before it too is left in the dust of a new musical theme. This track is evidence of FSOL’s mastery of musical transition. It’s hard to remember where the track began, emotionally, because of the swift and seamless journey that you’re taken on as you listen to it pass. It’s a monumental work.

Environment 5 is a brilliant record on its own, and benefits strongly from the addition of the excellent EP tossed in as a bonus. It left me feeling unworthy to write a review, considering FSOL’s incredible catalog and career, but there’s something to be said for a record that pulls at the listener.

Environment 5 is available on FSOL Digital.

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