Having indulged in more explicitly ambient realms with the Amorphous Androgynous side project, FSOL returned to full action with Lifeforms, a double-disc effort that ranks as one of the best experimental techno releases of the '90s. If not as immediately memorable on a song per song basis as, say, Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works collections, as an overall piece, Lifeforms makes for an inventive, fascinating aural experience, as rich and detailed as the Orb's best work. Where FSOL differs from that band in particular is the comparative lack of overt humor and less immediate desire to make people groove -- this is something to listen to rather than necessarily dance to.
In comparison to Accelerator, this is an extremely subtle listen, with rhythms generally buried in the mix, serving the melodies rather than vice versa. In comparison to the upfront breaks and steady house beats just two years previous, here they're stuttered, echoed, often approaching dub in pace and impact.
Meanwhile, the space-alien bubbles and noises and haunting tones take to the fore, making for a disorienting, evocative experience, a mix of natural sounds and artificial elements much like the band's own artwork. Even the singles, "Cascade" and "Lifeforms," play down the beat. The one for "Cascade" is barely there, swooping samples and soft synth hooks to the fore, while "Lifeforms," for its comparatively more direct impact, relies as much on its keyboard swell and chiming melody as much as the complex overlay of rhythms. There are a few guest appearances here and there, but they're mostly notable for how the band incorporate them instead of letting them stand out -- Robert Fripp's guitar on "Flak," Talvin Singh's tablas on "Life Form Ends," and Toni Halliday from Curve doing a "vocal texture" on "Cerebral."
I originally edited this with the more chilled "Lifeforms" track, to fit on a Minidisc - to me, this is Future Classical music, and still sounds fresh even now, despite it being originally released in 1994. Amazingly experimental and utterly delightful, especially haunting in the winter months.