This week’s entry of The Weekend Album covers Future Sound of London’s legendary album ISDN.
Combined from different live performances by FSOL that were broadcasted over ISDN lines, the album ISDN is an amazing achievement in texture and sample work. Released in 1994 (original Limited Edition) and 1995 (Second Edition), the album was way ahead of its time, both in construction and overall style. The Limited Edition is slightly longer, and has a different track listing than the Second Edition…personally, I prefer the Limited Edition, but some people prefer the Second Edition. Regardless of which one you listen to, they are both AMAZING. I credit many groups and albums for influencing my own music, but ISDN is what kick started my interest in getting started all those years ago.
The track “Slider” has a heavy-handed yet simple beat that persists throughout most of it, punctuated by an odd sample that sounds almost like a talking synth (as well as a sample of actual singing.) There is also a mildly modulated low-octave hard synth line, offset by a higher-octave more rapid synth line. In an album full of awesome tracks, this one definitely stands out. There are some points where the overall sound changes a bit, but the song maintains a number of constants throughout its duration. Like every track on this album, Slider is relatively simple, yet still exudes a professional sound, dutifully crafted by capable minds.
“Smokin’ Japanese Babe” has a foundation built by a standup bass sample, layered over by sounds of a body of water (likely an ocean or riverbank.) A simple drum line fills things out, along with a heavily processed wind instrument of some kind (I THINK it’s a saxophone, but I could be wrong) [EDIT: It's a muted trumpet. Thanks Ross!] and stabs created by what appears to be a mildly-processed accordion. There’s a lot of reverb used in this song, with each individual layer in the texture maintaining it’s own presence. The layers are arranged like an onion; each one covers or is covered by a different layer, yet combined they form a single unit. One of the layers gives a slight spacey feel that appears throughout the song, but despite this, the track as a whole comes across as grounded and Earthy.
“It’s My Mind That Works” slows things down, lead by a slow piano riff bookended by multiple synths that disappear just as quickly as they appear. Despite its chilled-out attitude, this one is pretty complicated, with layers not only maintaining unique positioning in the soundstage, but even carving out their own portions of the song. Despite the myriad of noises heard throughout, I think removing any of the samples or layers would heavily modify the way this track is perceived. Its unilateral variety is essential in creating a unique track that, like Sliders, really stands out amongst its peers. This one also has a lot of Drone influence, with some of the texture layers sent on a slowly-undulating course that is maintained throughout the track.
“Egypt” is another beat-based track, with a vocal sample repeated throughout. Once past the first 14 seconds or so, this one more closely resembles a “normal” track, and sheds the experimental sheen that covers the rest of the album. If you wanted to interest someone in listening to ISDN, I’d suggest starting with this track. It’s approachable and enjoyable, yet still exudes FSOL’s signature sound; weird enough for Future Sound of London fans, yet “normal” enough for people unfamiliar with their work.
Some people struggle with this album, since it’s a bit slow and non-traditional in its presentation. Still, this is, in my opinion, one of FSOL’s best releases. It exemplifies their talent and creativity, while still managing to maintain a wholly unique sound when placed up against their entire body of work. I highly recommend you plug in some ear phones, lay down, and enjoy.