Label: FSOLdigital, Electronic Brain Violence
Genre: Ambient, abstract
Originally, FSOL made reference to this album in 1994. In the inlay of the Lifeforms album, there was a small section where other available albums and singles were listed. Here, donning a black cover, was Environments. And for years, there it remained, taunting us, giving us the knowledge that it was forthcoming but god only knew when, if ever, it would actually take shape.
Just about when we had forgotten about it, Environments got a physical and digital release in 2008, fourteen years after they announced it was coming. And we rejoiced, just like when the archived material started coming out. And the sound, right from the start, was pure FSOL ambient magic. Somewhere between Lifeforms and ISDN with hints and whispers from other singles, this sounds like what we had imagined this lost album being—the stepping stone between the 1994 and 1995 releases.
As the title suggests, it’s a very atmospheric piece. The first track is very amorphous, but deep, toying with environmental sounds, soundscapes, field recordings and wild, unrestrained sonic tweaking that made FSOL famous in the first place. This is chuck full of vocal samples, and a wide array of odds and end from the universe. It’s like a darker version of one of their ISDN broadcasts but less focused on song-like short forms and rather on long form movements of space, sonics and audio whirlwinds. I’m sure that makes little sense, but that’s essentially what’s going on here.
The first track clocks in at 27:58, making it one of the longest tracks the duo’s released. It’s teaming with elements of earlier tracks, but they are stripped down to their bare minimum and harvested for their most ambient and atmospheric elements. This, coupled with a deluge of new sounds, organic instruments, vocal samples and other sounds, we get a rich, deep and surging masterpiece. Yes, it is quite hazy but that’s the fun of this. It harkens back to the releases from Fax Records in a sense, or perhaps a Laswell / Sharp collaboration.
There’s a nice balance here between minimal ambient and richer, hazy ambient, something up until now, FSOL haven’t explored too much. It’s a lovely back and forth game that I think should get touched on again at some point. And things move in that direction at first with the second track. We get some Dead Cities era vocal samples, most likely from ISDN transmissions before pulsing acid pads and light synth send us fluttering over imaginary landscapes. The sounds, in spots, definitely give a mid-90s ambient feel, and it’s a well welcomed throw back. We eventually find ourselves listening to more Dead Cities vocal samples before another lush soundscape swirls in around us. We’re lead through a field of vocal blips and minor Lifeforms and Dead Cities references before a gentle batch of beats carries us off once more. A few minutes of this brings us to the end.
Impressions? To me, if this release had come out in 1994, this is exactly what it should have sounded like. It provides us with a stepping stone between early and mid-career FSOL. It definitely feels more like a soundscape album more than their other releases, but that’s more of a plus in my book for this album. Should you buy this? For those of us who are long running FSOL fans, this is the long lost album that we’ve been waiting for. I know lately, there’ve been many FSOL releases that have been remixes and rehashes of older material. Some have been decent and others not so much. I would say this album is a superb mix of new and old and is a prime model of how this sort of thing should be done. If you were expecting an album of entirely new material, I still don’t think you’ll be put off by this. It still maintains originality. I was not disappointed, and I am certain you won’t be either.
4.8 out of 5.