Sometimes i get nostalgic. I am sure that we all do that, but for some reason this summer (2010) i have been going back and listening to a lot of music from the mid 1990s. There are many reasons why that era interests me, including the amazing electronica of the era. There was so much new and fresh music going on, and it seemed like almost every week i heard some new band making exciting sounds with computers. I don't hear so much of that anymore. Maybe i am jaded. Maybe we are in a creative lull. I just don't hear a lot of innovative music today.
Take Carbon Based Lifeforms, for example. I have been listening to Interloper, the third full-length from this Swedish duo, rather a lot, and not because it sounds new, but rather because it sounds old. The music on this album reminds me a lot of the type of stuff put out all of those three-word named electronica bands from the mid 1990s: Human Mesh Dance, Young American Primitive, Higher Intelligence Agency, Space Time Continuum, etc. etc.
Interloper would have fit right in with the music of that era. What i liked about that music was its freshness, the sense of experimentation. It seemed as if all you needed to make music was a computer with a decent sound card, some software, an idea, and some nifty samples to wrap the whole thing up in (having a cool three-word moniker is helpful, of course). As i listen to this record, I find that it awakens warm feelings of the mid 1990s because the music sounds so much like the music of that period. And yet, this bothers me. A musical period that at the time seemed so creative has been distilled into a style that is easily imitated.
And that is what Carbon Based Lifeforms are doing: they are imitating mid-1990s ambient trance. Part of me cries out against this, but another part of me acknowledges that everything is recycled at some point. And at least CBL do it well. If Interloper had come out in 1996, i would have been ranting about how great it is. Now, the most enthusiasm i can muster is to say that "it's pretty good".
Okay, enough existential angst (an emotion which goes against the easy-going tone of this style of music) and on to considering the actual music here.
Interloper kicks things off with several layers of keyboard washing against each other. Guitar and drums come in, but the song moves at a plodding ambient pace. It sets the listeners expectations for what is to come, and fades ever so lightly into Right Where It Ends. This is a tune of echoing dub. The ambient synth washes are combined with electronic beats that reverb in a haze. Eventually a voice comes in, a person speaking lightly, talking not singing. There is a hint of a Germanic accent. making the vocals remind me of the type of thing you hear on Kompakt records these days. Not bad.
Central Plain is a very old school track. Synth tones tinkle in layers, and there is a background vocal sample of some woman speaking. The voice is highly echoed, but sounds like movie dialog. This really reminds me of Young American Primitive. A total throwback, and i enjoy it.
The next track hearkens back to the brief illbient genre. Supersede starts with two minutes of deep bass tones and sinister synths eerily reverberating. When the beat comes in, the creepiness settles out and this becomes a good head-bopping dub tune. I like the rhythm here -- a burbling of synths and a steady hi-hat beat, reminding me of Space Time Continuum, or some of the electro remixes of Psychic TV.
The creepiness comes back in Init as a heavily echoed female voice reads some sort of weird poem for a few seconds. Then the tune becomes a very old school synth song, with those warm synth notes reverberating cleanly. When the beat comes in, as surely it must, you realize that this is a sort of homage to Boards of Canada. I associate that act more with the 2000s, but the song flows well with the general 1990s-ishness of the rest of the record.
But Euphotic brings us back on track with a nice piano line and female voice dominated tune that is reminiscent of Moodswings, Enigma, or perhaps Portal. CBL modernize a bit with the next two tracks. Frog adds some whirring guitar and M features some loud drumming. Both of these tunes remind me of Lights Out Asia. Not bad.
20 Minutes is a lovely ambient tune of tinkling keys under a lot of echo. This is not as beat-driven as much of the rest of the record, but is still pretty nice. Finally, the album ends with Polyrytmi. Echoed keyboard hits float in space, then another keyboard line comes in, moving at a slightly faster pace -- jaunty, really. Then another couple come in, two layers of happy keyboard bits dancing around. This is a fun, light tune. Halfway through, a sample of a deep-voiced chorus comes in, making the song ominous sounding.
This is a pretty good record, for what it is, and i have enjoyed it much over the past few months. I am sure that lots of people will not be interested, but for those of us who fondly remember the golden age of electronica in the mid 90s, Interloper is a fine choice.