To date, I’ve largely ignored the more ambient releases in my collection, preferring to review more energetic things (to be honest I suspect it’s easier to find the words to say if you can stay awake and alert during an album), but this also means I’ve largely ignored the career of one of my favourite artists of the 1990s, The Future Sound of London.
Tales of Ephidrina, released a depressing twenty years ago this week, was the first side-project for FSOL using the name Amorphous Androgynous. I suspect the reasons for using the alias lie in its sound – the more dance-laden flavour of their main project was, at this stage, entirely unlike the sound of this album.
The first track Liquid Insects is, as with many of FSOL’s better tracks, extremely appropriately named, opening with some wonderfully typical electronic squelches and buzzes. A tribal drum pattern kicks off, with more squelching and occasional panpipes. Although it bears no obvious resemblance to their debut album Accelerator (1991), there are parallels to draw with their more mature follow-up Lifeforms (1994).
There are only eight tracks on this album, and the second is Swab, and it’s reached, as with all the best FSOL tracks, by way of invisible segue. It’s a little unremarkable though, full of weird synth sounds and rattling tom toms.
This then leads into the finest moment on the album, Mountain Goat – so good that of all of the tracks on this release it was the only one to make it onto 2006’s best of album Teachings from the Electronic Brain. It opens with groaning synth sounds and a pleasant acoustic section, which gently weave their way through the five minutes or so of the track.
I’ll be honest, I don’t even know how you’re supposed to pronounce the title Tales of Ephidrina, but there’s definitely something very compelling about the electronic atmospheres which the first Amorphous Androgynous album provides. See this as an early, experimental blueprint for the likes of Lifeforms and Dead Cities (1996), and it does fit in rather nicely.
Track four is In Mind, even more abstract than its predecessors. The warping sounds and metallic drum pattern that serve as the backbone of the track are also pretty much all there is to it, apart from a lot of very ambient backing sounds, but it’s none the worse for all of that. After a while, a bit of merry piping turns up, accompanied by low bass swells, and it comes to an end.
The titles become odder still on the second side of the album, but first up is Ephidrina, continuing in the same vein with abstract warping electronics, but the chirpy hi-hats and acid bass make for a slightly livelier track. It’s still pretty laid back, but my instinct says it’s probably danceable if you don’t mind the tempo a bit lower than usual.
Auto Pimp turns up, after another seamless segue, and bleeps and bubbles its way rather sweetly through seven minutes. This is probably the second best track on the album, after Mountain Goat, full of lots of gentle burping and reverb effects. The penultimate track Fat Cat is less noteworthy or memorable, although as with most of the album it is still pleasant.
Then we’re onto the final track already, Pod Room, from long before the word “pod” acquired its current meaning (although with The Future Sound of London‘s gift for foresight they may have known this at the time). From the sound of it, they either sampled some whalesong as the basis for this track, or generated their own on their synthesisers. It’s not unlike early Moby, with a grimy industrial bassline and driving kick, and liberally covered in vinyl crackle. Gentle, sweet, and beautiful, it’s an entirely appropriate closer to a slightly immature but also entirely listenable album.
From here, it was onwards and upwards all the way – the next album Lifeforms, and even its singles, were entirely excellent. The pseudonym Amorphous Androgynous wouldn’t surface again until The Isness (2002), by when they had decided to use it for their more subcontinent-inspired sounds, but this first album served as an introduction to what would soon become the signature sound of The Future Sound of London: deep, electronic, atmospheric, and very, very good indeed.
You can find Tales of Ephidrina on iTunes and all other popular download sites.