19. LFO – ‘Advance’

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno, Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

LFO - 'Advance'

LFO * Advance * Warp Records * 1996

A refined sequel to their massively influential first album, Mark Bell and Gez Varley’s last work together, while less groundbreaking than the previous Frequencies, is a timeless tour de force. From the first robotic phrases of ‘Advance,’ the title opener to LFO‘s second album, an electronic bravura is on the march. Lobbing fireballs across the wire, its flawless productions overwhelm the mind, hewing closely to the underground attitude of ’90s rave culture and mapping a tough, uncompromising tableau of sonic warfare.

The track ‘Loch Ness’ still remains one of the most evocative space symphonies techno has ever wrought, a clash of sparkling sine-waves and thundering drums, it sends the listener floating off through a magnetic storm in some distant galaxy. The tossing and turning of ambient beauty ‘Goodnight Vienna’ calls to mind the stark lines and geometry of Wendy Carlos, who composed the score to the movie Tron, without ever aping her style. Pugnacious ‘Tied Up’ shocks the nerves with dreamy shapes of electricity, rolling over molten pits of steel while boxing your lights out with low frequency jabs.

When did this stubborn battle between the hard and soft begin? Bell and Varley were once rival breakdancers in the mid-’80s, before teaming up on England’s immortal bleep techno anthem, ‘LFO.’ “Bleep” referred to the use of synthesizer sine-waves, from high frequency notes to low frequency oscillations (the inspiration for the LFO name). Virtually launching Warp Records and rattling warehouses across the Western world, ‘LFO’ and the subsequent Frequencies of 1991 reshaped the electronic landscape, paving the way for the likes of Orbital and Aphex Twin.

Many critics still peg this breakout period in LFO’s career as their finest hour. Certainly it was their most impactful. But a close re-examination of Advance, which took Bell and Varley five years to craft, reveals that the old rivals scaled a pinnacle that was many leaps ahead of their time. As with Leftfield, LFO were perfectionists who cut deep paths into undiscovered regions of the musical universe. Their second albums were simply beyond the initial grasp of most critics and fans.

Take four invincible tracks from Advance: ‘Them,’ ‘Ultra Schall,’ ‘Shove Piggy Shove’ and ‘Psychodelik.’ The first prowls to tapping drum sticks flanged-out into oblivion while a sweep of chimes and slow-mo splashes slide the mind into its space-time groove. ‘Ultra Schall’ is much less linear. Its various elements slowly coalesce around a mournful melody, panting percussion and a call-and-response between terse bass murmurs and bright scrawls of light. It’s supreme electronica and one of the most overlooked techno gems of the ’90s. The pretty ‘Shove Piggy Shove,’ with its skyward counterpoint and little guitar flicks, is an easier pleaser that belies a restrained, almost jazz approach to bass and percussion. And ‘Psychodelik’ is one of the most infectious techno rides of all time, a rainbow synth-line weaving up and over and around the head, its slow howls and scintillating melodies crashing in a cosmic delirium of the senses.

The album bids adieu with two competing sides of the LFO psyche. ‘Forever’ drifts to a fever of shimmering keys and angelic clangs while ‘Kombat Drinking’ marches to a martial beat, its warping drums and assured cadences saluting the masses as its gentle waves of harmony wave goodbye to another innocent era of utopian dreaming.

Nearly a decade later, Bell would return alone as LFO with the respectable Sheath. A few killer tracks recalled the earlier glory. But nothing matched Bell and Varley’s last stand together. Advance is, well, advanced, even more than a decade after its release. In fact, it’s still not clear anyone has quite caught up.

1. Advance
2. Shut Down
3. Loch Ness
4. Goodnight Vienna
5. Tied Up
6. Them
7. Ultra Schall
8. Shove Piggy Shove
9. Psychodelik
10. Jason Vorhees
11. Forever
12. Kombat Drinking

Leave a Reply