Semblance by Forma

Release date: July 20, 2018
Label: Kranky

There are certain independent labels that have a sense of vision and musical direction that always contain a promise that, while you know at least the contours of the music you can expect from them, guarantee that: a. the artists they come up with will fit within your musical taste; b. that there is always some kind of a musical twist within the music that will at least remind you of good inspirational sources it is based on, and more often, bring something new along.

Brooklyn trio Forma and Semblance, their fourth album overall (second for Kranky) are no exception to the rule. The band, and the album itself, perfectly fit into the Kranky musical philosophy that could be defined as “if it sounds good, we’ll release it”.

Of course, that could be a bit too general and is usually much easier to be said than done. Still. Mark Dwinell, George Bennett and John Also Bennett, as evidenced on this album, are making it easier for their label.

Starting out with their conceptual motto that it is their mission to “broaden the idea of what an electronic music ensemble can sound like,” Forma on Semblance manage to do exactly that. As usual, dealing with conceptual art in any form is a very tricky business. You set out your goals and then try to fit anything you come up with within the concepts. Sometimes, it all fits in, sometimes, things seem to stick out a bit, and quite a few times things simply don’t work or fall apart.

Luckily, Forma has a solid base from which they take their cues. They start off from all the Krautrock polyrhythmic experimentation of bands like Harmonia and Neu!, the classical minimalism of Terry Riley, Glass and Reich and add to all that a current techno touch. All that is filtered through an improvisational style that is to, as they say, “trick our electronic machines into mimicking the spontaneous character of live instruments.”

The leading two tracks here, ‘Crossings’ and ‘Ostinato’ give a full showing of what Forma are after, and it is working! It all comes in full swing on ‘Three-Two,’ indicating that their live performances of this material will probably bring in some new improvisational twists while still not losing the shape of the original pieces.

‘Rebreather’ is a gentle relatively brief piece that accentuates acoustic instruments, bringing in shades of prime phase Popol Vuh, while “Cut-Up” introduces modulated voice that sounds like one of those late-night shiftings AM radio stations from god knows where.

‘New City’, seems to be the central piece here with its slowly rolling acoustic piano, electronic washes and ‘regular’ drumming, bringing yet another dimension to Forma’s concept. The closer ‘Ascent’ seems like a digest of all the ideas on the album presented in less than two minutes. A fitting conclusion to a very engaging and intriguing listen. Finally, a conceptual piece of (musical) art that really works.

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