The Life and Times of the Future Sound of London pt. 14

Artist: FSOL

Title: Dead Cities

Released: 1996

Label: Virgin, Astralwerks

Format: CD, 2×12”, cassette, limited edition CD & booklet

Genre: Experimental, ambient, IDM, abstract, leftfield

This album grew out of the disdain the band felt for their own sound and ‘artist limitations.’  They didn’t feel like they were progressing in any direction and it kind of led to them expanding their own label, Electronic Brain Violence, to showcase some works by other groups they had grown to admire, including Headstone Lane and Oil.  “Dead Cities” is a dark and moody, post-postmodern sounding piece that further defied all genres and listener expectations.

“Herd Killing” and “Dead Cities” kick off the album with darkened swooshes and angered beats.  A few small clips of spoken word poetry mark their spots and things seem really unsettled until we mellow out with “Her Face Forms in Summertime.”  Here, light guitar samples and splashy beats lift us out of the darkness for merely a moment before we’re plunged into the pulsating nightmarish world of “We Have Explosive.”  We get lost in melancholia with “Everyone in this World is Doing Something without Me,” a deep and almost soothing track with a haunting choral sample that sends us cascading around the darker regions of a depressed brain.

“My Kingdom” shimmers with ethno-strings and a vocal sample from Vangelis’s “Bladerunner” soundtrack and as it fades, we’re pushed into a modern classical Max Richter sample-fest piano track (“Max”) before we’re sent zapping along the rapid electronic landscape of “Antique Toy.”  We get into some darker, more experimental stuff afterwards with more samples from Richter and even some sounds from Philip Pin, who might be better known for his work as Orphic.  Near the end, the last few tracks leave us in a very dark, very haunting and very personal spot as if there’s no hope at all in this bleak landscape FSOL have created.  Despite the dark mood I am in by this point, I find these tracks to be profoundly powerful and moving.  We round out the album with a hidden track (more of a late reprise, really) courtesy of Headstone Lane.  It rocks in a dark and untamed way and it’s a great way to finish things off.

For me, this was the second FSOL album I bought and I recall loving it within the first few seconds of play.  The contrast between this one and any of their previous albums (especially their first) is extensive.  We went from ambient house, to hazy amorphous ambience with “Lifeforms,” to wild and freeform experimentalism on “ISDN.”  Here, you have FSOL at their most personal and intense, arguably.  It is a seamless, flowing album like their previous efforts but the wild variety in styles from track to track is more pronounced, and yet, the balance is perfectly defined.

Should you buy this?  Granted, the sound here is so different from anything else they’ve done and it is on the darker side, but it is still a great piece, telling a story without the use of lyrics.  It is a mature sound and for folks who might not be used to ambient music, this might not be the best point to jump into it with.  However, if you’re a fan of the genre, this should rank high on your wish list.

4.90 out of 5.

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About Nick H.

I'm a geek for music whether it be on vinyl, CD, 78 or whatever. My goal is to sniff out the greated music on Earth, specializing in the obscure. I make music myself as well, mostly ambient and sound collage (1 album out and a few remixes so far). I work full time as a professional mascot (it pays the pills) but will soon retire, i hope.
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