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Friday, May 13, 2016

Carbon Based Lifeforms: World Of Sleepers


1) Abiogenesis; 2) Vortex; 3) Photosynthesis; 4) Get Theory; 5) Gryning; 6) Transmission / Intermission; 7) World Of Sleepers; 8) Proton / Electron; 9) Erratic Patterns; 10) Flytta Dig; 11) Betula Pendula.

No, I'm really not comfortable with this «psybient» term. Or, tell you what: let us keep it, but let's spell it differently — let it be «sci-bient», because this is what these guys really are: they are using ambient landscapes to promote various (but connected) scientific concerns. Look at the track titles here — the very first one is ʽAbiogenesisʼ (a term that I personally abhor as a linguist, because it should literally translate to "birth of non-life" rather than the surmised "birth of life from non-life"), where the music is supposed to serve as a metaphor for... well, you know. (It's a little odd that life had to originate to such perfectly programmed trip-hop beats, but then again, you weren't there, and certain carbon-based lifeforms already were. It's also odd that Nature gave signals to "wake up" in perfect English, transferred over imperfect radio waves, but that's what you get when Anglo-Saxon revisionism of natural history eats up the minds of even the starkest Scandinavian resistants).

Birth and various ways of functioning of life, as seen not from a religious, but from a fully upda­ted modern scientific perspective — and all the attached ecological concerns as well — this is what constitutes the «philosophic core» of World Of Sleepers, and it's all fine and dandy, but if you only had the music and no titles (or occasional vocal samples) to proffer any guidance, I am not certain that the symbolism could be so easily decoded. With a stronger rhythmic base than last time, but without any ominously overwhelming bass lines, most of the tracks here are just soft synthesized sound patterns over potentially danceable beats; sometimes pretty, sometimes suspenseful, but not particularly suggestive of monumental natural processes.

Thus, I suppose that ʽBetula Pendulaʼ, for maximum authentic effort, should probably be listened to on a nice, warm, slightly cloudy day, within the confines of an actual birch grove, illustrating the slim, elegant grace of nature (rather than the artificial consequences of a slash-and-burn ap­proach to agriculture that usually results in the appearance of birch colonies, but that's sort of beyond the point). In this setting, the interaction between clouds, birch leaves lazily swaying in the breeze, and CBL's slowly overlapping synth loops, gradually pushing each other out of existence without any malicious intent, is bound to achieve its double purpose — make you un­consciously eco-conscious, and become analogously charmed by digital software.

Likewise, the best way to enjoy ʽPhotosynthesisʼ is get yourself a textbook, learn all the details of the process, and then try to correlate them with the various stages of the composition, which gradually builds up from the same soft waves of keyboard ambience to a dynamic groove with «acid» elements, while a concerned male voice keeps asking the question "what about the fo­rests?", probably sampled from some environmentalist documentary or other (doesn't really mat­ter). ʽVortexʼ must have your mind spinning around as the main keyboard line is looped around the usual electronic windwall, creating, if not a real vortex, then at least a spiral; with ʽProton / Electronʼ, you probably have to think of yourself as a neutron, caught without a charge in be­tween the negative high-pitched pipsqueaks of the electron and the positive satisfied bass grunts of the proton; and as for ʽErratic Patternsʼ, I honestly have not been able to notice any, so I guess this must be some sort of hint — maybe the erratic pattern is you, as opposed to the perfectly sequenced mid-tempo groove of the track.

In the end, even if common opinion usually selects World Of Sleepers as CBL's peak, my own impression is that the album is slightly weaker than its predecessor — the atmosphere is just too soft and snoozy throughout, with nothing to really shake you up like that Floydian bassline at the beginning of ʽCentral Plainsʼ; and also, it seems to be making much more of a compromise with contemporary electronics than they used to, which somewhat dulls the impact. On many of these tracks, they could have made the electronic veils more thick and imposing, rather than sticking to the same kind of thin, ghostly sound that makes everything sound the same in the end. But all that said, the results are still impressive — a long, humble ode to Life as an accumulation of patterns that organize system out of chaos and then, through ever-increasing complexity, create the sub­jective impression of chaos once again. I sort of get that, even if it takes a trip of reason rather than an impulse of the heart to do so. In any case, a thumbs up.


  1. I'm a teacher, and I'll do just what was suggested here with my class. We'll study up a bit on photosynthesis, and then try to track phases of the song to the biological processes.

    After that, students can read this review (maybe have a chuckle about how stuck up linguists can be when it comes to the idiomatic use of Latin compound terms), and then try to translate the experience of an assigned piece of music into an essay format for themselves, all on the way to making a binary rating: Thumbs up/Thumbs down. Is the music fit to live? Was "abiogenesis" achieved in the idiomatic sense...or the literal sense?

    I like it.

    Thanks for the tip, George.

  2. I agree, they sorta came across on this particular album like they lost short sharp sudden changes I enjoyed in Hydroponic Gardens. This album feels to me like the muddled soundtrack work they did later on.