I used to be like that, but at some point I realised the most important thing to me is the music, rather than the exclusivity of having something rare. It all sounds the same in the end.
Lived with this long enough to know how I feel about it. In some ways I'm kind of the opposite of moxlox - My Kingdom Re-Imagined didn't feel remotely Dead Cities-esque to me, whereas this feels like an extension to me. Sounds like a continuation of the post-DC-era, of the 1996/97 ISDN tour, the We Have Explosive EP and the 1997 early Isness sessions. A bit grittier and funkier than Dead Cities, but with a similar mood.
Yage 2019 - a relatively faithful recreation. Some of the sounds are slightly different - unsurprising, given the 20+ years between their creation - but the overall structure is the same. Comparing the two alongside each other reveals a very different mix and master though - this is a lot more trebly than the original, which sounds almost muffled when played alongside. Very happy to have an opening environment, it's been a while since we had one of those. Atmospheric section of drones, percussion and flute. Opens the album on a nicely trippy / weird note.
Floating into Focus and then Moving Away - both title and music are reminiscent of the recent era (E6-present), although wisely no beats are present, removing the IDM-sounding vibes and allowing the track to fit well with the record. Pleasant synth arps, reminds me a little of 'In a State of Permanent Abyss'. Spacious, euphoric, but with just a touch of oddness to it to keep it in line. Outro environment as part of the same track (always welcome!)
Purged - basically a modern remix of 'Hallucination'. Nice chunky stuttered percussion, lots of whooshes and sweeps, some new sinister melodies, a focus on Simon's chugging guitar. Pretty intense. Great stuff.
We Flew Together - back to the synth arp approach again. The heavy delay on the percussion here gives the track a very light feel that fits the title well. Lots of bits going on in the background that gives the track a lot of texture. Not my favourite, but decent.
Yage (Rhodesia) / Insulin - funny that this one is listed as 'Yage', as it feels closer to 'Hallucination' if anything. My guess would be that this track was created in late '95 as a halfway point between the two versions, one of many works in progress. Renamed from 'Beijing' from its EBS incarnation. Lots of Wells guitar and flute again. I love the synths that come in later as it morphs into 'Insulin'.
Voodoo Doll - the Amorphous track here. Funky acoustic bass, wah-wah guitar, organ, some horn samples. Strangely, it works really well, very much a Dead Cities funk rather than an Alice in Ultraland one. In line with WHE Pt 3, Trying to Make Impermanent Things Permanent, etc. Superb.
Earth Spirit - the fact that this beautiful ambient piece flows so well from the last track is incredible, to the extent that it would probably work just as well as an outro environment. Gorgeous memorable little section,
Ayahuasca - 'Hallucination' given a bit of polish, basically. The additions are excellent: that chant sample (most obvious at 1:50 is incredible, just adds a whole different level to the track. Some extra noises over the top and added percussion glitches definitely work to the track's benefit. The guitar outro is removed here, and while I do like that section, it makes sense not to have it. It's never been one of my favourite tracks, possibly because it's just this huge block of sound, and opening ISDN Show with it - or having it follow the blissful 'Lizzard Crawl' - just makes it seem very intimidating. But in this context the track suddenly makes a lot more sense to me, and I've been really enjoying it. Interestingly, I compared the two in Reaper to see if there were any structural changes, and this version is very, very slightly slower than 'Hallucination': they go completely out of time with each other by quite a few seconds by the end of the track.
Slowly Stumbled - somewhere between environment and standalone track, I think this one just about works having its own index. Lovely synth interlude.
The People of Yage (Humanoid Rebuild) - it's a shame that Virgin own the Oil remix, because I do think that would be much more suitable here. This one's grown on me a lot, it's a very subtle track with a lot going on in there. But I'm not convinced it entirely fits the mood of the rest of the record. I think mostly I'm just struggling to find the connection: it sounds like an individual track rather than a remix.
Yage Sunset Strip - another long awaited EBS track. This one is beautiful, basically an ambient version of the track, lots of beautiful pads. I think this is the only one that combines the Weird Greek Instrument with the Simon Wells guitar part, making it likely it was another work-in-progress version. It feels shorter than the EBS one, although I've not yet compared them. Another nice, sinister outro environment, albeit with a rather jarring Lifeforms moment!
A Sensation of Vagueness - I feel sorry for anyone who's sticking to the vinyl version, because they're missing out on the best track on the album. A bit of the slap bass sample that appeared a lot through the late '90s, but otherwise a very new sounding track, not quite like anything else they've done before. Clattering percussion, lots of tribal samples. That vocal sample is hypnotic and almost terrifying. Growly outro environment. Absolutely intense track, utterly bizarre and just really incredible. Love it.
The Images Were Simple and Few - closing things out on a mellow ambient piece, maybe the least memorable here, but it's a welcome respite after a largely very heavy going album.
The art is interesting. A very strong theme throughout, which is refreshing after some recent releases have felt quite vague in the atmosphere the art is meant to convey. The heads are pretty creepy, and they're used in very different ways throughout the booklet, lending a consistency to the theme. The inner art is the only place to find the Microgramma / Eurostile font, which is unusual in itself (it's also the first time the band name has been rendered in ALLCAPS in that font in quite a few years). Everything else is in a font I've not seen them use before. No trace of Buggy this time, with the art provided by Brian's partner Lysa. Something very notable: the second lot of text (the almost unreadable one that, amazingly, doesn't actually feature on the LP art) features the phrase "Earthbeat visions". Earth Beat Vision was the first used definition of EBV, a couple of years before Electronic Brain Violence came along, and I don't think it's been used since 1993. Still, after a run of five releases with matching spines, it was about time one came along to mess things up!
Not much to complain about - from first listen this one had me captivated. Just a couple of things that niggle me:
Gaps. The '90s albums have some very subtle crossfades at time (often at end of sides A and C on the vinyl versions), but plenty of FSOLDigital era albums have had actual silences. They don't bother me so much most of the time, but the one between 'Floating...' and 'Purged' is so long, and only two tracks into the album, that it threatens to derail things early on. There are also more short gaps (or at least extremely subtle crossfades) than on other albums.
The 'Dead Skin Cells' sample at the end of 'Sunset Strip'. I know as fans we're probably a bit more precious about the boundaries between albums and eras, with each record conveying a very specific world and set of images, which are probably a lot more specific than the band intended. That said, that sound is so distinct that it's hard to ignore, and mixing up Lifeforms and Dead Cities material just feels wrong to me. But, as I say, fandom and preciousness.
Overall, I think this is my favourite FSOL release since Environments 4. It has a sense of dark weirdness that's maybe been missing from some of the more recent releases, more in line with the '90s material, but it could still only be a product of FSOL now, which is a really great mix. I've been playing it to death for the past few weeks and haven't got remotely tired of it yet.