The Future Sound of London – Papua New Guinea Translations

After a bit of warm-up, The Future Sound of London really started operating under that name in 1992 with the groundbreaking and enormous hit single Papua New Guinea, and just under a decade later, they put that particular career on hold with the mini-album Papua New Guinea Translations, released fifteen years ago this week.

It opens, of course, with the track that began it all, the exquisite original 12″ version of the title track. Until you listen to it again, it’s easy to forget quite how good it actually is. Those simple, reverb-laden piano notes and choral washes will send shivers down your spine – it really is that amazing.

That was the first translation (back into the native FSOLish, it would seem). The second owes a lot to the original, built around a similar chord sequence and directly sampling it at various speeds. Papsico is a great way to begin in earnest – a ten minute exploration which takes the original in a very different direction while at the same time not straying too far from the theme. There are definite echoes of FSOL’s later, broader and more exploratory material, with a slidey middle section and hints of far-off alien worlds, but it’s almost certainly best not to read too much into that at this stage.

Other translations are more of a departure from the original – The Lovers, later revisited on the next Amorphous Androgynous album The Isness, borrows primarily from the original with just a laid back bass part, and a spacious progressive backdrop has been built around it. In its original form, it’s another nine minute exploration, which gives it plenty of space to evolve and saunter through the concept.

After this, the translations start to drift from one to the next, both literally and metaphorically. Wooden Ships hints at the eastern directions of their next project a couple of years later; The Great Marmalade Mama in the Sky is less psychedelic, and more of a beatsy, cosmic variation.

The journey we take on this album carries us around the world – perhaps even across the universe. Requiem is a gentler piece, with piano, harmonica, and waily vocals. Then Things Change Like the Patterns and Shades That Fall from the Sun is a more dramatic translation, built around startling pad chords based on the original Papua New Guinea sequence.

The eighth and final translation is The Big Blue, bringing together many of the themes from the preceding tracks into one. It’s a pleasant eastern-themed piece, drifting along with various instruments taking the lead. On the face of it, there isn’t a lot of Papua New Guinea left here, but then elements from the original do turn up from time to time, and the sum product is entirely pleasant.

Like the album as a whole – blurring the line between what “single” and an “album” might mean, this is an extremely enjoyable exploration of different elements from the start – and end – of The Future Sound of London‘s chart career.

You can find second-hand or downloadable copies of Papua New Guinea Translations from places like this.

Chart for stowaways – 30 July 2016

Here are the top albums this week:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  3. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. The Avalanches – Wildflower
  8. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  9. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  10. Aphex Twin – Cheetah

Chart for stowaways – 16 July 2016

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  3. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  9. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  10. Little Boots – Working Girl

Chart for stowaways – 2 July 2016

These are the top albums this week:

  1. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  2. Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Super
  4. I Monster – Bright Sparks
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. David Bowie – Best of Bowie
  8. Conjure One – Holoscenic
  9. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  10. ABC – The Lexicon of Love II

The Future Sound of London – Environment Five

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.

Chart for stowaways – 14 May 2016

Here are the top singles this week:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – The Pop Kids
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (II)
  4. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Rone – The Heart of Noise
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Sad Robot World
  8. Electribe 101 – Talking with Myself
  9. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Running to the Sea
  10. Amorphous Androgynous – The Mello Hippo Disco Show