Biosphere - Substrata 2xLP


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Label: Biophon

Our Review:

Substrata is often heralded as the grand statement of Biosphere, and gets lumped alongside Boards Of Canada's Music Has The Right To Children and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II as one of the best electronica records from the '90s. There's little to argue with such claims, even with a half-dozen or so of stellar records that followed this album. Originally released back in 1997 on All Saints Records and repackaged as a double-disc with Biosphere's soundtrack to the Russian silent film Man With A Movie Camera in 2001, now the album gets released on vinyl for the very first time. Like all great ambient records, Substrata works because of its subtlety, balancing soft-focus melodies that never assert themselves too much, but never fade so far into the background to become irrelevant. Given that his previous records smoothed out contemporary techno for the chill-out crowd, Substrata is a logical extension of Biosphere's sound for billowing synth-pad sequences and time-suspending ambience that never has to give over to the release of a big 909 backbeat. "Chukhung" cycles through muted arpeggios with layered chiming strings that gently rasps against the pastoral ambience to give the piece a crescendo of drama and softened tension. "The Things I Tell You" refines the tremolo / delay ambience that Pete Namlook was churning out into a quintessential Biosphere number rippling in time with an arctic wind pushing flecks of snow across a landscape lit by the midnight sun. Vocal snippets swimming in echo, aqueous passages, reverberant acoustic guitar plucks, and looped field recordings dot the album's resonant ambient hum, providing small signposts more to mark the passage of time than to assign any particular allusion. Biosphere rounds out the vinyl edition with a 14 minute bonus track entitled "Laika", although it's unclear as to when this track was produced. This album offers up beautiful music for lucid dreams.