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Friday, April 29, 2016

Carbon Based Lifeforms: The Path

CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS (NOTCH): THE PATH (1998)

1) Intro; 2) Behind The Corner; 3) Rain; 4) Rise To Tomorrow; 5) Hold; 6) Machinery; 7) And Contact; 8) Sinful Things; 9) Dreamshore Forest; 10) Submerged; 11) Contaminated Area; 12) Last Breath; 13) Station Blue; 14) Or Plan B.

Okay, so properly speaking, this is not quite Carbon Based Lifeforms yet: this is credited to «Notch», a band that, in addition to Johannes Hedberg and Daniel Ringström, also included a third musician, Mikael Lindqvist, credited here for at least three of the tracks. The music itself is also significantly different from that of CBL proper, which, according to the musicians, was originally formed as a side project for just the two of them and then became a full-time occupa­tion — Notch sound more chilly and transcendental, generally go easier on the bass and have a more New Age-like feel on the whole. But still, the connection is more than obvious, and it is no wonder that many «loose» discographies of CBL have this as their first entry, so we might as well start our carbonated journey right here.

The Path, self-produced and self-released by this bunch of laborious Swedes, is no great shakes, but I'd still rate it as a fairly accomplished and pleasant electronic experience for background listening. Despite the length (and subsequent CBL releases would only become longer) and the relatively static nature of its tracks, it is surprisingly diverse, tempo-wise and style-wise, and takes in about equal proportions from minimalistic ambient, modern (or not so modern) classical, and various types of «soft» dance music. Besides, they actually got a retro vibe going on: either it is the choice of instrumentation or an intentional return to traditional analog-era harmonies or both, but there are plenty of moments here that remind me of classic 1970s electronics — Tan­gerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Cluster, Bowie/Eno's Berlin Trilogy, you know the drill. Some­thing like that, instead of becoming yet another bunch of Aphex Twin or Autechre clones.

A track like ʽRise To Tomorrowʼ would be quite telling. Steamy industrial intro, mechanical vocal overdubs, psychedelic synth clouds dripping acid droplets, out of which gradually emerges a simple, but steady bassline and, one after another, several lead keyboard loops chasing each other by the tail. Melody, complexity, atmosphere, the works. Something is lacking, though, to make the whole thing properly «otherworldly»: the warp engines splutter and try to kick in, but in the end, you get vague glimpses of a parallel universe without being transported. Maybe it's be­cause we know these recipes from past decades all too well, and they have yet to learn how to add a secret ingredient that would make you want to relive it all over again.

Likewise, ʽMachineryʼ, which spends its eight minutes running on a busily rotating set of electro­nic pistons, does sound like a working machine, but a very smooth, humble one — steam exhaus­ted in the background, piston running in the foreground, and tiny kaleidoscopic gurgling taking place on a micro-scale. Never relenting, never stopping, never experiencing any technical prob­lems, just quietly doing its thing, whatever it is, while you are either busy doing something else or trying, out of fun / curiosity / boredom (pick whichever you like), to adjust your brain pulse to the rhythm so that you, Notch, and the universe can all tune in to the same wavelength. (Didn't really do that much to my brain, but maybe I'm just too old and cynical).

Sometimes they get almost too modern, though: ʽLast Breathʼ is an exercise in trip-hop, with a croaky wah-wah synth line making an «instrumental rap» bit on the side, and while I find the track amusing on its own, it is somewhat out of place on a record like this, especially when you find it jammed between the creepy chill of ʽContaminated Areaʼ and the subliminal bass pulses of ʽStation Blueʼ. On the other hand... diversity!

Anyway, what is really the most pleasing here is the density of sound: for a couple (or even trio) of guys self-producing their first record, The Path is exceptionally rich in texture, right from the opening «quasi-orchestral» bit (ʽBehind The Cornerʼ) and until the very last track. If you are a major electronica fan, there's enough detail here, and endlessly shifting nuances, to keep you occupied for a long time. If you're not, you probably won't be planning to return to it any time soon, but even so, it is precisely this attention to layering and nuancing that inconspicuously plants seeds of respect for The Path into one's mind. That said, I will not succumb to the temp­tation of calling this «the lost CBL masterpiece» or anything like that — the music's debts to its ancestors are way too huge, and they wouldn't really start paying them off until the impressive, but still inanimate Notch evolved into Carbon-Based Lifeforms.

3 comments:

  1. And here I thought that my choice of music must look random to people around me...

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  2. Fantastic, George! Very pleased (and genuinely surprised) to see you reviewing CBL. I feel that their second and third album (Hydroponic Garden and World Of Sleepers) are their peak, and what I've tried of the following works seem a touch less interesting, but nevertheless they are one of the better modern ambient groups. Very tasteful, pleasant, melodic and they're not afraid to use a 303. Awaiting the following reviews with great interest!

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  3. World Of Sleepers came out in 2006 which just seems too early... I let them keep on growing musically till the album Interloper in 2010 which in my opinion I consider their peak.

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