Biosphere, “N-Plants”

September 29, 2011
By Steve Dewhurst

Like Explosions In The Sky’s Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever, whose inlay caused an unnecessary stir when it seemed to predict the events of 9/11, Geir Jenssen’s newest release as Biosphere was subject to similar conjecture when it was conceived in February this year. Looking at pictures of Japanese nuclear power plants he found on the internet when researching the country’s ‘post-war economic miracle’, Jenssen was struck by the fact many of them were built along coastlines at risk of earthquake and tsunami. He was assured by a nuclear safety official that the chance of disaster was ‘practically impossible’, but his interest in their design and situation had been piqued and he began to write N-Plants as a soundtrack to some of them. A month later there was a massive earthquake along Japan’s east coast, the resultant tsunami tore open the power plant at Fukushima and the rest, as they say, is history.

As such, a lot has been made of the album’s apparent prescience and many reviewers have struggled to separate the music from the tragedy. It’s tough, for sure, to hear tracks like ‘Oi-1′, with it’s cold, sharp edges, or the hissing pipes that snake through ‘Joyo’ without thinking of hastily abandoned chambers turned to deadly rubble, but one must try hard to take N-Plants for what it is, and what it is is a so-so album of slowed-down electronica based around a fairly flimsy architectural concept. I’ll have to admit, I suppose, that Biosphere has never really grabbed me anyway. Even Substrata, which is routinely held up as a never-bettered genre-definer, fails to coax any kind of enthusiasm out of me when I give it its yearly spin in the hope that – bugger me – I’ve been missing the bloody point all along and, yes, it really is the greatest thing in the world actually.

N-Plants is cold, clinical and far too shiny for its own good, which is probably the point. The highlight for me is ‘Genkai-1′, which trundles along at head-nod pace over a deep bass beat. ‘Oi-1′ pulls a similar trick and augments it with sparking, spluttering mechanical malfunctions. This is, in fact, the album’s common theme: the uneasy feeling that, as impressive as the buildings and the physics we’ve harnessed are, we’ve actually created a monster that could (and will) take us all down if we ever lose control of it. N-Plants‘ landscape is almost entirely human-less, but the machines still buzz, bleep and whirr regardless. You’ve got to ask though: if it weren’t for the earthquake, would we really care about N-Plants at all?



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