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Friday, June 10, 2016

Carbon Based Lifeforms: Refuge


1) Rca (+); 2) Birdie; 3) Rca (-); 4) Leaves; 5) Lost; 6) Escape; 7) Marauders.

CBL's output rates seem to have slowed down considerably since Twentythree — the only com­plete album in five years has been this soundtrack for an obscure indie movie that allegedly tells some sort of macabre story about one family's survival after a mass catastrophe and is usually pigeonholed in the «survival horror» genre. You'd think that CBL, of all people, would be the most uncanny choice for composer — but I guess this was precisely the point, to have a couple of people known for making some of the most serene music in the universe to lend their hand in the creation of a disturbing, suspense-based movie. Then again, you don't really need to go farther than ʽCentral Plainsʼ to be reminded that these dangerous Danes (Swedes, really, but «dangerous Danes» rings so much cooler) can also be fairly threatening and suspenseful once they get the opportunity to saddle that vibe.

That said, there is not much about Refuge, an uncharacteristically short (less than 45 minutes!) collection of ambient soundscapes very much in the vein of Twentythree, that would suggest dan­ger or threat — at least, not immediate ones. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that the artists simply used up some of the outtakes from previous sessions: most of the tracks sound like less elaborate little brothers to their far more thoroughly polished elders. Everything sounds nice, elegant, melancholic, but without too much depth: ʽLeavesʼ, for instance, floats on a shiny, multi-layered, but common bed of synth tones with a repetitive two-note drip-drop landing on them at regular intervals — well, we've heard that kind of «look at how elegant the universe is in its static mode and how all life is just a regularly ordered icing on top» musical metaphor so many times now that it is futile to expect some new epiphany. But it's pretty, all the same.

The best track is arguably ʽRca (-)ʼ, with a steady, carefully orchestrated electronic crescendo that Godspeed You! Black Em­peror might well have appreciated — it's a little lost out there in the middle, but it well deserves your undivided attention for about four minutes, with layer upon layer of synth added until you really start getting the impression of climbing the proverbial stair­way to heaven, as the air becomes sharper, the temperature colder, and the intuitive feeling of a supernatural presence more and more distinct. Unfortunately, even GY!BE would probably com­plain that the track is much too short, and the climax is over way too quickly, for the track to become truly cathartic. The soundtrack curse, striking again and again!

The only time the record actually comes close to becoming «scary» is, amusingly, on its most optimistically labeled track — ʽEscapeʼ, structured as soft techno with a deep, almost subconsci­ously planted, bassline and, on top, populated with what sounds like a series of alien explosions, coming from faraway but powerful enough to resonate all over your living room. That sound is so atypically harsh for CBL that the track really stands out, and in quite a respectable way at that, although eventually it morphs into full-scale danceable techno, and the explosions are almost lost against a foreground of much less interesting loops and effects. And then, for the last track (ʽMa­rauders"), we return back to the same predictable world of static serenity (well, dark serenity this time — sounds like all those other «out there in space, watching faraway nebulae» tracks of theirs), lightly sprinkled with electronic chirps from interplanetary-flying birds on their way to the nearest warphole.

In short, nice and, like almost everything from these guys, perfectly listenable, but a soundtrack is a soundtrack — or, rather, a soundtrack is a collection of second-rate material that you wouldn't normally want to include on a «proper» LP, especially when you're a loyal disciple of Tangerine Dream. (Okay, not that loyal. Being loyal to TD necessarily implies a schedule of at least three albums per year, proportionally increasing at the same rate at which the artist is running out of new ideas.) For major fans only, I'd say; others will just have to wait and find out if there is still another Taoist way left for CBL to tell us how wonderful and mysterious can a world be in which, for all it's worth, nothing is really happening.

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