Almost a decade ago, British synth duo Futurecop! introduced us to a mythical mindspace free from the shackles of hate, prejudice, anxiety, and suffering on EP The Unicorn and the Lost City of Alvograth. Last week, they decided to revisit this place with a full-length album, Return to Alvograth.
Given that the world is poised to unravel again, or already is, this return to a more innocent Valhalla couldn’t have come at a better time. This is less of an album just for listening to and more of a sacred ritual. With a change in track sequence, I could see building a morning practice around the machinations of Alvograth.
A New Earth, A New Alvograth
On Return, Manzur Iqbal and Peter Carrol shed some of the more synthwave elements of their predecessor in exchange for broader, bigger synthesizer expressions that tap into more ambient, New Age realms and even minor shades of progressive trance. (That last part, the trance, is minute enough to not detract from the songs.)
The themes of the songs themselves, although perhaps more spiritual or religious than in the past, tend to evoke the same mood Futurecop! always has: souls free of the pollution that weighs them down. Sometimes this has manifested as nostalgia for childhood innocence, but this time it’s all about tapping into your inner energy to find the divine spark of interconnectedness that binds us all together as one. At least, that’s how I see it.
Some instrumentals are named for concepts like Hindu fixture, Hanuman, a devotee of Vishnu avatar Rama; and Charyapada, a Vajrayana Buddhist collection of songs of affirmation and realization that originated in Bengal (although Tibetan Vajrayanas have included it in their canon, too). Hanuman is a common subject of kirtans — those devotional songs of bhakti yoga. The Charyapada features its own devotional elements, and those who are doing the singing typically would extemporaneously create verses based on the character of their enlightened state.
In either instance, and as a general rule throughout the new album, Futurecop! is using elements of Eastern thought to yank people out of the toxic mundanity and taxing conflicts that plague human relations. We turn off the news, put down our phones, close our eyes, and see our differences and problems become minuscule and our worlds grow ever larger.
That serves as a great opportunity to recharge before setting forth to take on the forces of evil — within ourselves and our communities. Thankfully, Futurecop! has an inspiring cut to transition us. “Into the Darkness” takes us once we’re fully energized and boots us out into the world to do some good.
Voices Carry in Alvograth
This isn’t a pop record, a synthpop record, or a synthwave record. However, there are poppy songs and synthy songs and combinations of each with vocals. All are as dreamy as you’d expect from Futurecop! and there are a couple that really stand out.
The first is the “La Foi En L’eau” — that’s French for “The Faith in the Water.” This collaboration with Dutch synthpop group LGHTNNG is an understated but breathtaking creation. Singer Doortje Hiddema offers up a sacred, tempered performance to match the relaxing expanse of the instrumentation — her voice calmly flows over excited synth arps, mid-tempo drums, and mind-opening ambient synth pads.
On “Sarah,” a song Vehlinggo premiered recently, singer Hunz lends his expressive pipes to a mountaintop-of-a-song. “Sarah” is instrumental for the first three minutes of its five-minute runtime, buttering us up with beautiful synth pads and orchestrations before they up the ante and Hunz comes in, singing to the world from a summit.
What Do We Do Now?
Ultimately, by returning to Alvograth, Iqbal and Carroll are in a way serving up nostalgia for their early nostalgic work. Nevertheless, they are doing it in a way that underscores their growth as people and musicians and challenges us who listen to come along for the ride into a maturity of the soul. It’s a refreshing experience.
You can buy Alvograth today in digital form from NRW Records’ Bandcamp, where you can also order the vinyl release.
Feature Photo: Cover art by Alexander Burkart, who has also created logos for Vehlinggo, 1984: Night Arcade, College, Electric Youth, Maethelvin, and Anoraak.