In Latin, the word “forma” means shape or figure, and in a more figurative sense it is also used to describe beauty. This implication suggests that the simplicity of the form and structure in things captures the spirit of elegance. Forma’s 2011 self-titled debut album was a dream pop record that embraced the modern world’s fascination with experimentalism and new age. The Brooklyn-based trio—George Bennett, Mark Dwinell and Sophie Lam—employ a variety of vintage synthesizers to weave their musical fabric, which results in warmer tones often not found in electronica. Moreover, they present themselves as musical pioneers with a wide-eyed curiosity and cosmic demeanor. With the Mars-like landscape depicted on their first album cover, it wasn’t hard to see what they were aiming for in terms of musical voice.
One year later, Forma returns with a mature sophomore album that takes on a darker, more mysterious tone that showcases low and reverbed qualities and also shows how much the group has grown since their debut. Over the course of the album’s 40 minutes, “Off/On” offers a contemporary response to the ’70s and ’80s’ futuristic vision of electronic music.
Forma kicks off with “Off,” a track that immediately delivers an ominous atmosphere, which goes on to permeate the rest of the album. With its steady, space-like arpeggios running behind dreamy synths and bloops, the nefarious beats in “Off” suggest that the planet expressed in the first album has taken a turn for the worse. Fourth on the track list is “Forma 286B,” which extends a more upbeat and optimistic tone in contrast to that of the album opener; despite the devastation on the planet, all is not lost. However, the final number “Forma315” reinstates the dismal ambiance. The slow bass and drum beats, in conjunction with the low synthesizer voices, lend the piece a daydream feel tinged with remorse and urgency.
One of the chief issues with this album is that if the listener doesn’t listen to each song comprehensively, the songs begin to blur into the background. Moreover, nearly every song is assigned a seemingly meaningless triad of numbers, which may or may not have been a deliberate choice by the band in order to emphasize the more sinister themes explored in their second album. But at its core, “Off/On” is a solid compilation that thrives on its suspenseful themes. In a genre that generally lacks tangible differences between a good and a great album, Forma’s “Off/On” manages to provide enough visceral punch to make it a worthwhile listen.
Rating: 3.5 stars