A salad of ambient and drone-like variations from The Future Sound Of London. Environments 4 is another passage through time and space, featuring sonic examinations, forest and urban excursions and eastern drones, percussion and strings. Is it dance music? Is it really the future sound of London? I'll get back to you on that. Out on vinyl LP and CD from Jumpin & Pumpin.
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9/10 Ross Baker Customer review, 11th January 2015
With desert textures adorning the front and back sleeves, and titles like "River Delta' and "Vast Landscape", it would not be a great leap of the imagination to believe that 'Environments 4' has sonic similarities to The Future Sound of London's 1994 classic, Lifeforms. Indeed, both albums inhabit a similar musical world: that of tropical, exotic sounds. That surface comparison, however, is where the similarity ends: although the band have seen fit this material out under the radar, disguised as 'archived' material, most of the music on display here is new and shows the continuing development and maturing of the group's sound.
The grand, orchestral opening of "The Wheel of Life" should not come as a surprise to anybody familiar with both the band's previous Environments albums, and their modern classical leanings, and their psych-rock project The Amorphous Androgynous. Strings and choral vocals mix with various eastern sounding instruments and warm electric piano. If the piece's epic scale is not replicated elsewhere in the record (other than its reprise in the album closer), the rich textures and depth of melody are. Far from the sci-fi synth squelches and subdued club beats of the band's commercial heyday, on Environments 4 you will find guitar strums, rolling acoustic percussion, hints of funk bass and even a synth solo. After several years of tentatively placing new tracks amongst classic sounding archive pieces, FSOL go all out here and show off their new sound: a electronic group who are unafraid to put "real" at the fore. Indeed, tracks like "River Delta" bring to mind the music of Dead Can Dance more than Aphex Twin.
Nevertheless, the album's key strength is that despite the many changes in sound, 'Environments 4' still sounds like a Future Sound of London album. The cohesiveness, the segues that help the album flow from start to finish, the music's ability to draw images in the mind - these are all as present as they ever were in the 1990s. Those images may be earthier and all together less otherworldly than in the past, but they are as successfully evocative as ever.
Note: The LP version comes with a bonus track 'The Plough', which was previously only available as a digital bonus with purchased through FSOLDigital. A fascinating piece which is a moodier, more electronic version of 'Fibrillation' from the album - giving an idea of what the album would sound like if the band wanted to reference their past more blatantly.
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