Having learned that Norwegian electronic music producer Geir Jenssen had decided to draw his inspiration for his latest Biosphere album from the the architecture and potential instability of Japanese nuclear power plants (with all nine of the album's tracks named after them), I expected the collection's mood to be generally foreboding and ominous, an expectation bolstered by the recent earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, even if that horrible event occurred a month after Jenssen completed the album material. In February of 2011, Jenssen himself wrote: “Decided to make an album inspired by the Japanese post-war economic miracle. While searching for more information I found an old photo of the Mihama nuclear plant. The fact that this futuristic-looking plant was situated in such a beautiful spot so close to the sea made me curious. Are they safe when it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis? Further reading revealed that many of these plants are situated in earthquake-prone areas, some of them are even located next to shores that had been hit in the past by tsunamis.” How sad it is that, only one month later, his words would prove to be so tragically prophetic, yet how surprising it is, on the other hand, to discover that N-Plants isn't oppressive in the manner anticipated but much sunnier in tone. Not only that, but the fifty-minute recording is much more dance-oriented than expected, with many of the tracks rooted in beats. As a result, N-Plants reveals itself to be less a meditative set of ambient settings than a collection of quietly jubilant ambient-techno (ambient-house, if you prefer). While the rhythmic focus is generally in the techno-house vein, “Genkai-1” pushes the album's rhythmic feel into downtempo hip-hop territory without losing any of the material's lush character.
The album's uplifting spirit is conveyed repeatedly. The brightly coloured, even effervescent synthetic flow pulsating through the opener “Sendai-1” establishes the mood at the outset, and most of the subsequent tracks follow its lead. “Shika-1” is filled with luscious synthetic textures and smooth and syncopated rhythmic flow, while “Ikata-1” evokes a serene ambient-techno paradise. The geographical locales associated with the release are captured not only in the track titles but also the samples of Japanese voices that surface during the pastoral synthetic idyll “Monju-1” and the driving tech-house closer “Fujiko.” With its mix of grainy industrial emissions and brooding synth melodies, “Joyo” comes close to the foreboding character one might have expected from an album based on a nuclear power plants theme, but generally speaking Jenssen's polished tracks aren't weighed down by portent but more convey in sonic form the interlaced radiance of the cover design.
Those of a more critical bent might see N-Plants as too frivolous a recording for such serious subject matter and call Jenssen out for squandering the opportunity to produce a work that investigates the phenomenon in question with the utmost seriousness. Others more kindly disposed might hear it as a welcome breath of fresh air from a producer working within a genre that has a tendency to take itself too seriously and lapse into over-ponderousness. Position me in the latter camp, as I found myself to be rather charmed by the album's sunny disposition, especially when I expected to be listening to another meticulously crafted collection of icy isolationist ambient music.