Title: Lifeforms (Paths)
Label: Astralwerks, Virgin
Format: CD, 12”
Genre: Ambient, IDM, leftfield
A few months after their wildly successful “Lifeforms” double album, this single hits the shelves. Though, it feels more like a mini-album of sorts than a single. Unlike the “Cascade” single, there is enough variety here and lack of repetition to keep things fresh yet still under the same theme.
The opening track starts with the vocal chirps of several small furry creatures before a beat made of splashes surfaces with some chimed synth. It is quite deep and otherworldly. Liz Fraser’s vocal work here (and throughout the other tracks) is nothing short of fantastic, giving this a slight tribal feel.
Part 2 soars in seamlessly with ethnic vocal and string samples and a rapid bass riff leads to a few more chants from Fraser. The track mellows out and then dashes around again before it finally mellows out at its end. We do get some percussive assistance from Talvin Singh once again. Part 3 is the album version of the track, and is the only real piece that reminds us that this was supposed to be a single. Though, once this track fades, we’re mixed fluidly into Part 4 and we’re back to the mini-album once more.
Here, we get a more melancholy sounding track, full of small sampled build ups and odd animalistic sounds. Fraser’s wonderful voice returns and she really lets the full extent of her sound out. It is almost tribal in a way and is otherwise wailing loudly and emotionally… just what we were waiting to hear but were not able to on the album. The beat is fast and vivid but still keeps the track fairly ambient. I think we even get a wolf howl in here before the end, along with some sampled flutes and piano. This is the longest track on this CD, clocking in at 9:03.
A warm, wild acidic hum melts us into Part 5 with a dog barking, some beats and some resurfacing material from “Life Form Ends” and one or two other tracks from the original album. It’s not repetitive enough to be annoying though some may find that such reoccurring material slows down the pace here—if we wanted to hear a song that sounds the same as the version on the album, we would have just played the album—but as a whole, it isn’t so bad. It flows into Part 6 with a flurry of newer sounds that make the listener feel they are in flight over a lively forest at night. We get a similar flute sample and the same synth pad from Part 4, which leads me to believe that this was more of an alternate take than a remix, as the only thing really missing is the piano and Fraser’s vocals. This track ends in roughly two minutes.
Some more ethnic string samples and a vocal clip lead us into Path 7, and the same splashy beat from Part 1 surfaces once more. We get a few small chorus samples played at various speeds, a different beat after a while, and some random animal sounds. Again, it is not repetitive enough to come as much of a turn off as “Cascade’s” various ‘versions’ but there is enough here to make it feel like a remix of Part 1 than its own independent track. After about four minutes, we round out the album and go on our peaceful way.
Should you buy this single? Yes. This is varied enough to stand out enough as its own mini-album, more so than “Cascade” does, or the later “My Kingdom” single. It was nice to finally get the full treatment with Fraser on vocals this time around, and not just on one track but two or three. While the album version may be the most dance-oriented track here (which is saying something), the rest of this is truly beyond the usual excursions of ambient and is a fantastic example of FSOL’s vast and diverse range. If you buy the full length album, get this to go along with it.
4.80 out of 5.
A CD version as well as a 12” version exists so you can get your fix on either format. A 7” picture disc is available if you are lucky to get a used copy off the net, but the tracks are merely radio remixes of the title track, so there’s not much there we haven’t heard already. And, for those of you who are Liz Fraser fans or are curious to hear more from her, check out the numerous Cocteau Twin albums or her solo singles “Underwater” and “Moses” on 12” vinyl. Prices vary, the more expensive one being the “Underwater” single since it has been out of print since 2000. “Moses” was released in 2009, so it isn’t too pricey yet.