It has been 6 long years since the last studio album by Gothenburg’s Carbon Based Lifeforms. In 2011, the curious TWENTYTHREE stepped away from the beats and accessibility of their early work and into a dense ambient experience. It was a gloriously primal move to make considering the reputation and fan base they had built around what came previously.
Since then, there has been much activity on the housekeeping front – we’ve had the soundtrack for a movie called REFUGE and various releases of remix and live material. In 2015, Carbon Based Lifeforms decamped from Ultimae Records and signed with Blood Music. While it is unclear exactly why they left the label that reared them, it may have something to do with the fact of Ultimae leaning more and more towards digital releases. A comprehensive repackage of all CBL albums and first time vinyl issues of everything on Blood Music suggest that the group made a wise decision to move on.
DERELICTS is a record that has been simmering since March 2015. It strikes a familiar tone and doesn’t seem that interested in taking the radical steps of its predecessor into the great sonic unknown. Reference is predominantly drawn from the well-defined CBL formula of early works and the whole album seems very much in a “pick up where we left off” kind of mode.
ACCEDE kicks the album off. Instantly recognisable, it selects a warm sequencing tone from the Carbon Based Lifeforms sonic palette. The pulse of the album slowly surfaces and by the two-minute mark we’re in familiar (if not particularly remarkable) downtempo mode. DERELICTS, the first of 4 tracks to feature the deeply mixed vocals of Ester Nannmark, would probably have made a more dynamic opener. The track is dominated by a submerged but purposeful bass line and melodies eased out with great deliberation. And when we get to tracks like NATTVÄSEN and EQUILIBRIUM, the CBL creative juices really start to flow.
The album’s midsection ebbs and flows through several deep cuts, alternating ambience and understated beats, before arriving at its pinnacle, DODECAHEDRON. This is a progressive slab of electronica that encapsulates Carbon Based Lifeforms at their creative best. After this, LOSS AVERSION and EVERWAVE take on a specific purpose, illustrating the overlying theme of the album. In a final combined 20-minute journey, they drift through the rusted structures, derelict machinery and abandoned frag of ghost industry that the cover image suggests. These final 3 tracks together are undoubtedly the strongest section of the album.
If there’s a lingering negative, it’s that the crystalline production of previous albums now seems swathed in a relentless cloud of reverb. I understand that it comes with the territory, but where there was always a unique clarity in Carbon Based Lifeforms music, some detail way down in the mix now seems a little overwhelmed by it all. In one of the album’s video primers, they stated that more hardware synths had been employed on this than previous, a factor that would account for additional analogue girth. I’ve no doubt that this all sounds spectacular running through studio quality speakers, but that’s not how the end product is ultimately being consumed.
As a long time fan, all the way back to the Notch album, I’m in two minds about DERELICTS. When you make incredible albums like HYDROPONIC GARDEN and WORLD OF SLEEPERS early in your career, you probably have to concede that you can progress beyond them but will probably never radically top them. And where the sonic leap between INTERLOPER and TWENTYTHREE was considerable, this seems like more of something we already have. Not bad, just more.
The world of ambient sound is ever evolving and with so many creators out there crafting new sonic structures, DERELICTS needs to be more than just the next Carbon Based Lifeforms offering.
Review of TWENTYTHREE (2011) by Carbon Based Lifeforms