Forma: Physicalist

Teeming with motorik beats and dizzying arpeggios, Forma's third album, the double-LP set Physicalist, fits snugly within the kosmische tradition, so much so that in a couple of places the NYC trio sounds as if its cruising down a German highway not unlike one made famous by a certain visionary quartet forty-some years ago. A Brooklyn-based outfit formed in 2010 and featuring Mark Dwinell, George Bennett, and John Also Bennett, Forma established itself with two albums on John Elliot's Spectrum Spools before landing on kranky for this eleven-track outing.

But though luscious, multi-tiered productions such as “Sane Man” and “Spin Glass” play like single-length distillations of Autobahn's side-long title track, other settings reveal that Forma is interested in something more than cloning, and it's this that ultimately recommends the recording most. Physicalist, you see, is the first Forma album to include acoustic instrumentation, and, further to that, the sixty-eight-minute collection, midwifed during five days of marathon sessions at Brooklyn's Gary's Electric studio, actually presents two rather different sides of the band: the first hews to the kosmische template in featuring concise, propulsive settings produced using modular and vintage synthesizers; the second switches things up dramatically in presenting adventurous pieces, some of them featuring piano, flute, and acoustic percussion.

Representative of the album's opening half, the jubilant “Sane Man” percolates, glistens, and burbles with the confident swagger of a vintage ‘70s production, its swinging shuffle a foundation for gleaming synth patterns that swirl alongside it. During “Spin Glass” and “Maxwell's Demon,” percussionist George Bennett augments Forma's melodies with driving krautrock pulses, whereas “Descent,” in contrast to the downward-plunging direction of its title, takes the listener on a star-kissed tour through the heavens. The trio executes each of these tracks with a finesse so precisely calibrated it feels almost surgical. Yet as flawless as they are on production grounds, such pieces don't depart dramatically from the style of music Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream perfected years ago.

It's up to the album's back half, then, to make the stronger case for Physicalist, which it effectively does with a bold dreamscape that threads acoustic piano ruminations in amongst synthesizer flourishes (“As If Pianos Grew on Trees”) and an ambient-drone meditation (“Collapse of Materialists 2”). And even though the penultimate title track, its eleven minutes powered by an endlessly propelling pulse, ends up rivaling “Sane Man” as the set's prime driving cut, the daring closer “Improvisation for Flute and Piano” reinstates the explorative tone characteristic of the release's second half.

August 2016