“When you have nothing left to lose. When there’s nothing left to gain. You find yourself at the edge of the world, wishing nothing would have changed… All you can do is jump.”
Broken Fairytales – Monica Alexander
There was something about the year 2012, something collectively experienced. A need. We devoured Dystopian worlds and found a sense of belonging. Many of the people I know described hitting a wall, feeling a need to try a new path, to change something. We lamented the utter fallacy of repeating the same actions, only to (unsurprisingly) fail. We didn’t know why we were failing, perhaps, but we knew something was very, very wrong.
We grieved a loss of self, one that Future History articulated so poignantly on their sophomore album Loss:/self that it stepped over brilliant albums by the likes of Passion Pit and Bruce Springsteen to take the top slot in OTM’s Top 12 Of 2012. How could it not? An electro-progressive soundscape of traditional instruments and found objects, lent a chorus of stomps, handclaps and the lonely cry of a shunned whale, Loss:/self questioned everything that we take as truth, bared every lie we tell ourselves, revealing the ultimate isolation.
“I was re-reading books like 1984, Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange… These Dystopian worlds didn’t seem all too unfamiliar to me,” frontman Kevin Ker relates to me in a recent conversation. “Loss:/self was a realization of mass proportions — not only about the world around me but also the internal struggle and how it so accurately reflected the external. A lot of the songs may appear to be about someone else, but it was always an internal dialogue.”
In crafting the album, it became evident to the band that while they had asked many questions and razed the false foundations beneath them, there was still somewhere to go: up. Bunkering down for 6 months in an isolated cabin, Ker set out to find that which was lost so many years ago. The result: Future History’s eight-track odyssey, entitled Lungs.
The title of the album encapsulates the mood behind its composition and recording. “During the cabin session, I would always keep a room mic active and, on some occasions, an outdoor mic,” Ker informs me. “The settling of the walls, the rain and wind outside, the creaking of the trees leaning in towards me, a strange pulsing as if [the cabin was] breathing all around me… The cabin had a voice of its own. It felt alive.”
Opening track “Breathing” is the embodiment of the cabin’s isolation and energy, pulling listeners into the head space of the band. It’s incredibly effective, evoking a sense of being haunted and indeed pursued, playing off the predatory subtext of first song “With Haste”. Perhaps closest in spirit and meaning to Loss:/self’s narrative, “With Haste” is a mourning piece, a lament borne of the previous album’s revelations. It is the rock bottom, the wind-knocked-out plummet to earth after the desperate flight from self.
It is from here that the spiritual awakening charted on the album takes off. Listeners familiar with Loss:/self will immediately notice the more acoustically-driven feel of the album on the whole and to me, it feels natural. From the societal machine and the static that clouds the mind and heart, the rebuilding begins from sonic basics. This is a recurring theme on the album: the songs that speak to reconnecting with organic experiences and emotions tend to be pared down and often softly confessional, while those that speak to the struggle with painful memories and outward pressures dwell in more experimental realms. Contrast, for example, the affirmation to self and another in “Take Two” with latter track “Pavlovian”: while the former dwells in the soft guitars and an almost drifting downstream feel, the latter is jarring and layered in its defiant sarcasm.
This push-pull flow of the tracks – from awakened to collapsing beneath the weight of the world anew – gives the album an almost cyclical shape. Peaks and valleys echo the moments of strength and temporary defeat. Standout “My Lungs Don’t Feel Right” feels pivotal to the overarching journey of the listener, and it is here that the organic collides with a more electric and pained sound. If this album were The Matrix, this tune would be the moment where Neo is offered those pills and ultimately chooses Morpheus’ truth. “I could be wrong, but this time my lungs don’t feel right,” sings Ker as the song builds to its crescendo. It is a powerful moment captured in sound.
There are other moments of complement that pull the album together beautifully. “A Lie To Bare” is a work of revelation, a collision of worlds between the walking, slumbering souls and those awake for the first time. There’s a tragedy in its framework, an understanding of what expectations we project onto ourselves through peer pressure, media and culture and a sense of what should be. “Pavlovian” continues this arc, bringing the inner struggle to a place of freedom over surrender. The simmering anger Future History has channeled into its chords brings the listener to a satisfying sense of having shaken off the sorrow and preparing to rise.
When there is nothing left to lose, we find what we need most to survive. “Without (You)” feels like a love song to oneself, to that and those which nourish our spirits. It also serves as a reflection of Loss:/self closer In This Sleep:/Creatures on a sonic level, mirroring its soft beginnings and swelling, soaring melody. The difference here: “Without (You)” builds upon an earthy sound. If climbing a mountain were a sound, its outro would be it. Our journey is complete: “I’m awake tonight and the numbing is leaving/For the first time, I can feel my lungs breathing…”
“Fear encompasses all,” Ker tells me. “It alters perception… If we perceive the world through fear, we do not perceive the world.” In a world where everything presses upon us to be anything but what we truly are, one where burn out is routine and the day-to-day can consume us in its fires, it’s hard to survive without being reduced to the proverbial ash. I’d like to think we can still choose to be the Phoenix, to rise anew from the ashes of this often disingenuous world. A worthy follow-up to Loss:/self, Lungs is the soundtrack to a much-needed uprising.
Highlights: “With Haste”, “The Strangest”, “My Lungs Don’t Feel Right”, “Without (You)”
Final Grade: A+
Listen to the album for yourself via the band’s official website.