CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS: TWENTYTHREE (2011)
1) Arecibo; 2) System; 3) Somewhere In Russia; 4) Terpene; 5) Inertia; 6) VLA (edit); 7) Kensington Gardens; 8) Held Together By Gravity.
For the weak-willed and feeble-minded, the very same day upon which Carbon Based Lifeforms introduced us to the sonic monumentality of VLA (July 23, 2011) also saw the release of a «normal» album — so, if you are spiritually baffled and morally destroyed by the sixty minutes of ʽVLAʼ, here is a nice little compromise for you: ten minutes of ʽVLAʼ (in the form of an edit), plus seven other seven-to-ten minute tracks that pretty much do the same thing — only in several different ways. It's kind of like spending your time in a museum: would you want to spend one hour of your time staring at one fabulous landscape, or divide that time between eight different ones? Actually, the correct answer would depend on many circumstances (starting with the individual quality of the pictures and ending with the individual quality of your soul), but here we won't be getting too pretentious about that, and just admit that VLA is an extreme, and Twentythree feels quite accessible in its company.
It also feels somewhat more pleasing to me than its two predecessors — despite the stark minimalism and a complete shift to the hardcore ambient paradigm. The major reason is that the silly electronic beats are gone: they never really needed them anyway, and now that the music no longer pretends to invite you to dance, you can just tune in with the cosmos and stuff, because, you know, The Creator has a Masterplan and it doesn't necessarily involve all the living things getting into a trip-hop groove or anything. It does involve various atmospheric shifts and transitions, though, and there's plenty here, from track to track.
Again, the composers are jumping from macro- to microcosm here: ʽAreciboʼ, with its obvious reference to the Arecibo Observatory, is clearly influenced by planetary movement, whereas ʽTerpeneʼ should probably induce you to feel the smell of conifer resin (at the very least, there is definitely something sticky-liquid-like about the wobbly flow of its programmed loops). ʽInertiaʼ brings you back to the world of intertwining underground caverns, with gentle gurgling streams trickling through and harmless night owls and bats hooing off echoes (although why it is called ʽInertiaʼ, we'll never know); ʽSystemʼ is the closest they come to transmitting the idea of being lost in space.
ʽSomewhere In Russiaʼ, one of the few tracks with the very, very faint presence of an underlying beat, probably means Chukotka rather than Moscow — somewhere, in short, where temperatures are quite low and human presence is scarce. In direct contrast, ʽKensington Gardensʼ are lively, replete with tolling bells, singing birds, and echoes of what seems to have once been noises made by children and other visitors — yet now there's a certain ghostliness to it all, and, in fact, many of these tracks could be thought of as coherently conceptual, like it's a record about a universe that suddenly, for no particular reason, found itself devoid of people. I mean, most ambient albums give off an air of total solitude, but Twentythree quite specifically feels like an odd deconstruction project, where you have a soundscape that is densely populated by actual people, and then, whoosh, all human presence has been erased and only faint echoes remain.
It probably wouldn't have hurt them to find at least a few strikingly impressive melodic lines for some of these tracks, rather than resort to the usual «glide one note into another so that nobody even notices» technique — but the music still works, and the tracks seem alive and meaningful in the vein of all those old Klaus Schulze records. At least I can say that it made me feel like the only living man on Earth for a brief while, and I'd rather get that from music than from a VR headset, so while I'm still hesitant to move my thumbs in the presence of hardcore ambient, let us count this as an endorsement of sorts.