CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS: INTERLOPER (2010)
1) Interloper; 2) Right Where It Ends; 3) Central Plain; 4) Supersede; 5) Init; 6) Euphotic; 7) Frog; 8) M; 9) 20 Minutes; 10) Polyrytmi.
I forgot to mention that, apparently, not only are all those album covers geometrically and stylistically similar to each other, but even the tracks run in completely continuous order: thus, ʽInterloperʼ here is numbered 24, implying that the LP is to be understood as the third part of a complete whole — and, as it turned out later, the last part, although there's nothing here to instinctively indicate any sort of grand completion of one's purpose. But if The Artist tells you so, then The Artist must be right, because there's nothing more sacred than The Original Artistic Intention. Even the almighty gods cower and recede before the stunning power of the OAI, so what's to be said of a simple humble reviewer?
Nevertheless, the simple humble reviewer will try to gather all the nastiness he can muster and state that Interloper brings no surprises to the table — it is still masterful, but it seems that the duo's grasp is weakening, as the sonic-emotional effect of most of these tracks becomes restricted to almost dangerous levels of subtlety. The title track features a single delay-treated electronic loop played out against a background of stately, but shallow-sounding Eno-esque synth tapestries: well-constructed, I admit, but so effortlessly sliding through the senses that I cannot, for the life of me, visualize it or emotionally experience it in any way. Not too pretty, not too ugly, and not even representative of an exciting parallel universe. I mean, if those were the sounds of a parallel universe, I might consider settling there (it's always a good perspective to settle down in a place where "nothing ever happens"), but go there as a tourist? No way.
The only track where something does happen is ʽRight Where It Endsʼ, with its more sharply expressed trip-hop rhythms, acid keyboard lines, and evil whispers. Incidentally, fans of the album often complain of this very track as disrupting the flow — I understand them perfectly, but the complaint can only register if you are really taken in by the flow; if you don't think the flow's too cool, then a little bit of disruption is actually good for the health. At least there's a definite feel of suspense and concealed danger here, and that's a good thing, because what's a parallel universe, really, if it's all safer than a mother's womb?
Everything else, well... my biggest beef is that it's way too long and way too even. The best masters of ambient, like it or not, still have ways to shift the mood from track to track, or at least to capitalize on a few brilliantly selected chord sequences. On Interloper, tones and overdub structures matter far more than chord sequences, and when there are discernible chord sequences, they sound way too much like adult contemporary (for instance, the melody of ʽ20 Minutesʼ could have very easily be encountered on a Phil Collins solo album, although he'd never bother to wrap it up in so many additional layers, of course). Or, when they hit upon a good one, they can spoil the moment with a totally unnecessary and generic percussion track (ʽInitʼ, which starts out beautifully, but do they really want us to slow-dance to it or what?).
With repeated listens, you can probably get used to the softness of it all, and, most importantly, Interloper preserves the warm human spirit that has always characterized CBL, but I have to confess that I thought better of them when they were drawing their influences in about equal measures from Eno, Tangerine Dream, and Floyd, than now, when they seem to be so much concentrated on «light» rather than «darkness» — because light always shines brightest in contrast with darkness; and these guys are good, but not good enough to become absolute Gods of Light — the more they try to be, the more boring the results become. So, not a thumbs down, but definitely a step down from the quality of the previous two albums, although I think we really saw it coming (with music like this, holding on to an exciting standard for very long is downright impossible — not even a musical genius like Eno could boast a decade-long uninterrupted career of ambient masterpieces).