Future Sound of London‘s Lifeforms and Dead Cities were two of the truly unique records to come out of the mid-’90s techno boom. A decade on, FSOL have finally released not one but two follow-ups. And — oh, no! — they’ve gone prog!
Actually, FSOL’s Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans have been releasing material under the Amorphous Androgynous alter-ego for years, but now it seems to be the primary focus of their efforts. And even on their FSOL works, you could hear prog influences: the musical left turns, the continuous sequencing, the general sense that some grand scheme beyond the simple creation of music was at work. Now, though, Cobain and Dougans have reaped all of the ugly effects of diving whole hog into King Crimson territory while realizing few of the rewards.
A collection of outtakes, leftovers and re-workings from 2002’s The Isness (which was released under the FSOL banner), The Otherness aims for Pink Floyd circa Meddle but sadly lands closer to Ummagumma. Like that album, The Otherness is ungainly, bloated, self-indulgent, and saved only by a handful of decent tracks.
Elements of the general FSOL style remain, to be sure. The sheer sprawl of the compositions, the eerie bleeps and whooshes and lumbering nature of the whole thing will be familiar. But on top of that you also get faux-Eastern droning, codpiece-rock guitars that have more in common with Joe Satriani than David Gilmour, and rather generic, sneering Syd Barrett/Roger Waters vocals that say things that sound like “Mumbo jumbo snow fellatio”. Hmmm…
Not all is lost. Cobain and Dougans are clearly possessed of talent, and they haven’t managed to hide all of it. “Goodbye Sky”, with its orchestral flourishes, should please Polyphonic Spree fans, “The Lovers” gets funky with some wah-wah guitars, and “Maharishi Raga” is pretty and mellow, like FSOL stuff of yore. “Theram” applies some drum-and-bass-inspired beats, one of the album’s unexpected turns that really works.
“The Band”, melodramatic and overblown, however, sounds like Suede doing self-parody, which is saying something as Suede are perfectly capable of doing that themselves. “Charvarvah” shows promise by sampling the rhythm from ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”, but squanders it on some genuinely hokey honky-tonk.
Maybe the best that can be said about The Otherness is that it’s allowed Cobain and Dougans to get this wankery out of their system. Not that they need to reprise Lifeforms or Dead Cities, but some wankery is ultimately good and this ultimately… is not.