Listeners of The Future Sound of London have, for the most part, spent the last couple of decades wondering exactly where they have been hiding. One of the more prolific acts of the 1990s seemed to have almost entirely disappeared from the turn of the millennium onwards.
Except they never really disappeared – with several albums under their belts using the Amorphous Androgynous pseudonym, a whole series of From the Archives and Environments albums, and a load of other stuff, things never really went entirely quiet. But Environment Five, unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2014, is unusual, in that it was their first truly new material for a very long time.
With Point of Departure, it feels as though they have slipped very comfortably back into the habit of making music. This would have fitted fairly comfortably on Dead Cities (1997) – but that’s not to say it’s in any way boring or dated. The Future Sound of London are, a quarter of a century after their first releases, every bit as contemporary as they ever were (although that may not be saying a huge amount).
Soft ambient pieces, such as the piano-based Source of Uncertainty, have always cropped up from time to time, and always add beautiful atmosphere. There are elements of Lifeforms towards the end, as the watery closing of the song blends into the more dramatic Image of the Past.
FSOL, as the fans call them, are very much an albums act, and their releases are beautifully crafted works of art, shifting gently from darker, uptempo, almost dancey electronic pieces, to ambient moments such as Beings of Light. There’s rarely a sudden contrast, but the more energetic, effects-laden In Solitude We Are Least Alone does stand out somewhat from its predecessor.
So it continues: Viewed from Below the Surface is a lovely piano piece; Multiples gently passes a minute or so; and Dying While Being Held features a delightful, almost harpsichord-like melody. Machines of the Subconscious is a dark, bass line-driven piece with chirping electro noises in the background.
Sometimes, it’s really best to close your eyes, and enjoy the environment that The Future Sound of London have created for us. Separating Dark and Lonely Waters from Somatosensory or The Dust Settles is a difficult task, but that’s not to say that you don’t enjoy them when you hear them.
Finally, before you know it, you’re onto the final track, the soft piano-and-rattlesnake duet of Moments of Isolation, and Environment Five is over already. It’s not a long album, and actually it probably won’t appear on too many “best of all time” lists either, but if you’re in need of another dose from the people who brought us Papua New Guinea and My Kingdom – and, let’s face it, you’re reading this, so you very probably are – this is an unexpected and rather wonderful return to form.
You can find Environment Five at the official FSOL website, and you’ll still get a nice bonus EP with it if you buy it directly from them.