Hot on the heels of their brilliant double album Lifeforms, this week in 1994 saw The Future Sound of London release the original version of ISDN, a collection of recordings which had been recorded live over the nascent internet, just a few months earlier.
It’s hard to imagine now exactly how this might have come about. Streaming can be an iffy enough process now, with broadband speeds, but twenty years ago, ISDN technology was, in modern terms, little faster than dial-up. Yet somehow, they were able to record something very inventive and unusual.
There are two versions of the album, which vary slightly in terms of track listing, but both begin with the somewhat dull Just a Fuckin Idiot before launching into the fun single Far Out Son of Lung and the Ramblings of a Madman.
Where ISDN fails somewhat as an album is that it feels a little directionless at times. Many tracks, such as Appendage and Slider, feel a little flat alongside their catchier neighbours. When you understand the background of the album, it’s much easier to see them in their original context, but that’s a slightly unfair expectation as a listener.
Of course, pure creativity can easily come from places like this too, and Smokin Japanese Babe, easily the best track on the album, is a fine example of this. Really, it’s The Future Sound of London at their best – chilled out, melodic, a bit odd, and very good indeed. And this continues, after the odd but brief side-step of You’re Creeping Me Out, with the disturbingly titled Eyes Pop – Skin Explodes – Everybody Dead.
But this is far from the sublime perfection of Lifeforms. None of the trio of It’s My Mind That Works, Dirty Shadows, and Tired have much to say for themselves, leading up to the sweet and ethereal Egypt. This is then the point where the two versions of the album diverge – 1994’s limited edition has Are They Fightin Us followed by Hot Knives, whereas the more common 1995 reissue replaces them with Kai and the fantastically spooky Amoeba.
The final tracks A Study of Six Guitars and Snake Hips wind the album down in characteristically gentle fashion, and then the album reaches what turns out to be a rather sudden and surprising conclusion. Viewed as an album that’s two decades old from one of the guiding lights in laid back electronic music, it would be easy to be disappointed by ISDN. Even viewing it as a slightly odd side-step between Lifeforms and Dead Cities, it wouldn’t really live up to your expectations. But if you try to be a little open minded, and remember how exactly this release came about in the first place, it’s certainly got something.
You can still find ISDN from all major online retailers, such as Amazon here.