On Forma’s third album they’ve expanded their scope to embrace a looser approach through improvisation, though they don’t dive into the idea lightly. Physicalist is constructed in two halves, the first follows their setup of vintage synths and Terry Riley/Faust vibes with occasional flecks of Cluster strewn about the synthscape. The second, plunges the band into a broader vision populated with flute, acoustic instrumentation (a first for the band) and elements of free jazz. Since the LP version is setup as a double LP, essentially they act as companion records with each focusing on a different scope, tied together by the idea of repetition and improvisation with an emotional arc fusing the halves through what feels like a cycle of self-discovery.
The first side is bound by their usual setup, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t taken a few steps forward. Barring the more techno oriented Cool Haptics EP, the band worked in groove oriented Kosmiche on both their eponymous LP and its follow-up Off/On and both of those releases feel much more tightly wound than anything on this side of Physicalist. From the cover art by influential psych designer Robert Beatty, to the double LP sprawl, everything here seems oriented to be more expansive, more attuned to the informative qualities of electronic float. The band works through tension and turbulence on this first portion, slowly unhinging its hold on reality.
The second side takes the notion of the infinite and lets it free. There’s a distinct progression along the first half towards looser and looser ends and they continue the unraveling on the second half to great effect, each track seems less and less tied to the idea of rhythm. They work this system right up until the title track, which bursts out of the second half in a vibrant and celebratory blast. Its still built into their well of synth, but adds a layer of pop that the band hasn’t really embraced. Its as if the tension and serenity of the preceding tracks melt into the background for the band to break free into a hedonist dance, leaving the academia of the album behind. Then, as a sobering up of sorts, the final improvisation rises like the sun over the tresses of the bridge line along the river, a knowing sign that tomorrow’s here and that a sobering reality awaits. Though, for the moment, that track hits like the halting bliss of a night well lived, the calm before the comedown. Its a great step forward for the band and one that knocks them out of any danger of being accused of stasis. They’ve built an well-oiled arc that uses the album format in a way that fewer and fewer seem to relish these days.
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