Spectrum Spools is a vinyl-only electronic music imprint curated by John Elliott of Emeralds and distributed by Editions Mego, the seminal Austrian label behind two great Emeralds albums, Does It Look Like I’m Here? and What Happened, as well as fellow synth-nostalgicist Oneohtrix Point Never’s Returnal. After an excellent start earlier this year with releases by Bee Mask and Fabric, Elliott’s label has unveiled release number three, a self-titled album by FORMA, a trio consisting of Mark Dwinell and Sophie Lam on synthesizers and George Bennett on drum machines. The group initially released its music via cassette, but the vinyl release adds a certain polish both in presentation and mastering.
Starting with as perfect a cutting-edge sound as one could want from 1979 -- zoned and droned keyboards, sequencers running rampant, and drum machine precision mania -- Forma continue their back-to-the-future love on their second full release, Off/On, serving up another batch of short tracks that all sound like they should be incidental music on Omni-sponsored documentaries. The opening "Off" indeed couldn't be better as a statement-of-purpose fanfare on that front alone. Otherwise, aside from the later "Mécanique" -- at 11 minutes, the album's longest and most entrancing piece -- as with the first album things follow a basic title format of band name and number, giving the sense of installations in a larger process.
A year-and-a-half ago, when Forma released their self-titled debut, the trio's dusty electronic sound perfectly mirrored their album art — an aerial look at a rocky, barren landscape. With follow-up Off/On, Forma chose to adorn the LP sleeve with a close-up of molten lava pouring down the side of a volcano, making the album's sinuous, forward-moving rhythms that much more obvious. To say that Off/On is an all-around more palatable effort would be overselling the band's sophomore release, but once the listener ventures into mid-album territory, it's easy to point out Forma's mounting melodic maturity.
The Brooklyn trio FORMA's 2011 self-titled debut was a dream pop record that felt very much in tune with electronic world's continued embrace of new age textures. Presented with a wide-eyed, almost precious demeanor, FORMA was curious and cosmic, though not terribly dynamic: Mark Dwinell, Sophie Lam, and George Bennett came off as intrepid sonic pioneers, gently forming otherworldly landscapes in ways that were effective, if too timid, in their simplicity. Looking at the Mars-like terrain on the album's cover, it wasn't hard to see where FORMA's collective head was, but it also didn't suggest there was much life to be found out there.
The first, self-titled Forma album found strength in its toothlessness. Presented with a crater-lined LP jacket, its sonic innards were kosmische glory and golden age radiophonic atmospherics, the stuff of grade school science filmstrips and budget sci-fi. If there was a rhythmic pulse to it all, it was barebones, metronomic, and functional, appropriately so, mind you.