The Future Sound of London and their side project, Amorphous Androgynous, have had an interesting journey through sound in the last twenty or so years. From house and dub music to ambient and more recently, psychedellia, Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans have brought us many records that demand to be played. However, this collection of “psychedelic relics” may show tiredness, an exhausted attempt at being retro, an abundance of already used sounds and samples. Has The AA lost all of their Technicolor steam?
Now, Future Sound of London’s excursion into the psychedelic realm has been a tricky affair. Coming back from one of the darkest of dark ambient/dub records, Dead Cities, (and a hiatus) they went straight into acidic throwback live-mix sessions, which featured many vintage psychedelic recordings as well as new trippy soundscapes that they sculpted themselves. They called these shows The Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble, which later was revived as the compilation series by the same name. I found this first bunch of podcasts to be absolute genius. It takes balls to go from one extreme end of music and then going on the complete opposite side. After this, The Isness record showed some absolute gorgeous moments of clarity and beautifully lysergic brilliantness that blended the organic with the electronic. However, there were still moments of unnecessary pomp and drama that derailed the piece of work. Even after stressing through a massive album call back and altering the original mix, Isness still sounded half perfect and half uncomfortable.
Alice in Ultraland, the next record to be released, seemed to fit just right. All of the tracks with lyrics were sang wonderfully (even the near-atonal overdub strewn vocal performance of “Summertime of My Consciousness” was worthy of multiple plays.) The samples fit perfectly amongst the drippy atmosphere and the kaleidoscopic flourishes. The organic acoustic elements sat enjoyably alongside the electric ingredients and formed a proper tribute to the prog and psych sounds of old without appearing to be forced. Both moments of sunshine and murky darkness coexist seamlessly on Alice, which is a clever trick that was captured before only by the best artists of the genre.
Yet this album seems more of a repetitive mess than an actual album. Many songs sound to be actually unfinished outtakes from previous records, and even some tracks appear far too similar to the work of other artists.
For starters, the opening title track sounds too much like Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” to be an accident (especially since Donovan collaborated with the duo during the Isness sessions). Lyrically, the track almost sounds like a lazy parody of a psychedelic track (compare the verses to “Piggy in the Middle” by The Rutles). The first line of the second verse ends awkwardly and rather flatly on the word “aura” whereas every other line rhymes. It almost sounds like Garry’s made a mistake and pauses to stop the recording but for some reason continues anyway. These issues give the impression that the words weren’t really focused on. If one is supposed to take lyrics seriously, then the writer needs to take them seriously. Apart from this, the song features samples that have been used to death on previous recordings and sessions. This is a motif carries over the entire disc, which is a major flaw. The ending is also a weak moment. There’s a bouncing tuba part that just comes off sounding hilarious and it takes you far out of the mood of the song. It made me think of the soundtrack of some old N64 game.
“Given that we’ve given” isn’t terrible. Yet, it sounds not unlike a possible outtake from Alice in Ultraland. It’s definitely better than the opening track though. Following this, “I Have Loved You Into Oblivion”, swells and breaks apart several times without any sort of pay off. The song never seems to go anywhere or amount to anything. Meandering can be good, but here it just sounds unfinished and unfocused. “Light Beyond Sound” is just annoying if you’ve been keeping up with all of the AA releases. This excerpt of spoken word poetry has been used and reused to the point that when I hear that voice on any recording, I leap to the skip button immediately. Yes, it can be really interesting to feature a sample of original spoken poetry if it fits in well with your material, but if you drop it into virtually everything that you release for a couple of years, then it looses the meaning.
The track “Carousel” stands in as just filler. It’s nothing. The song gets irritating by the end, thank god it’s only 38 seconds. “Mr. Sponge’s Groovy Oscillations” has got to be a joke title. The song itself is comprised of Abbey Road/Let it Be like guitar work with some ELO-esque synthesized squeaks, yet none of these exercises can hide the fact that this track is only a different version of “Divinity”. “Mr. Groovy” forces one to beg for any newly written song by the duo. This is followed by the uselessness that is “It’s a Sunshine Day”. The song is only a rehash of the sounds and voices found earlier on this and the other previous releases.
Thankfully, there are some decent moments here and there across the album. “In Fear Of The Electromagnetic Machine (Part 1)” starts off like a cheesy 1970s blaxploitation theme song but with a spacey quality to it. If there was ever a Shaft in Space, this could have been the film’s soundtrack. Eventually the song sounds not unlike something that could have belonged to Dead Cities, which is a nice return to form if you ask me. “Nowhere at the Edge” continues the mood of the previous track, then sitar and ocean sound effects enjoyably brighten the tone. This then flows into “Riders”, which just ruins the nice direction these songs were going in. This track is basically just another piece full of recycled clips from previous songs.
“Opus of The Black Sun” is a gentle sunny kind of track, even though it is essentially just an instrumental version of Alice’s “The Witch Finder”. I actually find that I enjoy this version better than the original, but it is still distracting that it’s just yet another completely recycled song and not an original creation. “Marylebone Road” has moments that are catchy and danceable yet, once the pieces of “Goodbye Sky” from The Isness show up and take over, it gets terribly weighed down. Following this is “Tiny Space Birds”. This track has a fierce driving beat that makes it sound more like good electronic acid trance song. Then sitars and ethereal voices with bells accompany the track like as if it was an acid rock song. So now it’s safe to say that “Tiny Space Birds” is an Acid-Acid track.
“Drifter” is one of the most pleasant moments on the entire record. Its mainly acoustic sound is a nice break from the overly produced digital atmosphere. This track would play very nicely during an easy drive by the sea. Then “Rocket Fuel” comes next. This song feels like a slowed down Hawkwind track with some sludgy Dead Meadow like guitar work. At one humorous point, there’s a sampled voice that pops up that talks about being a tree. This gets a laugh from my friends and I during every listen. From here, “Listen Little Man” flows through as one of the true standouts. Listen… is a pretty little acoustic guitar and sitar number with some nice harmonious lyrics. This is one of Garry’s best moments as a singer. If the direction of the album went where this song was heading, then the rest of the record could have been fairly original and much more interesting. The next stand out track is the song that comes right after Listen…and it’s called “Man is a Virus”. This track sounds very much like a cosmic 70s funk song. I’d even go as far as to say that this isn’t too different from sounding like if Funkadelic and Pink Floyd had a studio session together.
Overall, The Peppermint Tree and Seeds of Superconsciousness is nothing special and certainly nothing memorable. There are a few moments of fun and a couple of good songs, but they’re very scant and often times too short. Again, perhaps the record could have been improved greatly if the group decided to not constantly reuse sounds, samples and entire songs from their past catalogue. This persistent recycling gets old very fast and it makes the music come off as sounding cheap, lazy and boring. Perhaps it is time to either go back to the world that Dead Cities and Lifeforms existed in or find a totally different path to explore.
Although this is one of my least favorite album by Amorphous Androgynous and Future Sound of London, it still is a hell of a lot better than their cover of “Across The Universe” on Mojo Magazine’s Let it Be Revisited tribute CD. (They literally just stripped the vocal track off of their song “The World is Full of Plankton” from Alice and spoke the Beatle lyrics over it. Could you be any lazier?)