Future 3: With And Without
Prior to With And Without, the last newly recorded material from Future 3 surfaced on the 2002 Morr Music compilation Blue Skied An' Clear, which involved roster artists covering Slowdive songs issued between 1991 and 1995. “Alison,” one of two cuts Future 3 contributed to the release, was one of the more haunting tracks on an overall exquisite collection and deservedly warranted its position as the release's opening cut. And now, a dozen years on from Blue Skied An' Clear and thirteen from the release of Future 3's third full-length Like … comes a new collection, the appropriately titled With And Without. But though the Copenhagen-based project might have been on an extended hiatus, its members—Anders Remmer (aka Dub Tractor), Thomas Knak (aka Opiate), and Jesper Skaaning (aka Acustic)—have been anything but dormant. All three have released solo material over the years, and in 2006 reconvened for the People Press Play project and the release of a self-titled album on Morr Music in 2007.
Prompted by a Future 3 appearance at Copenhagen's Strøm Festival in 2010, the trio decided the time was ripe for a new album and set about devising a project that would strike a balance between the ambient-electronic tone of the earlier recordings and a newfound interest in songcraft. The result does exactly that in pairing With content—song-based pieces the three recorded with guests Thomas Meluch (aka Benoît Pioulard) and Anja T. Lahrmann (Ice Cream Cathedral)—with Without—instrumental settings featuring Future 3 only.
Well, without wishing to imply that the Without material is in any way second-rate, it's overshadowed by the With songs, so much so that Future 3 might have been better off conceiving the forty-three-minute album as a With project in its entirety. Meluch in particular is slowly turning into an MVP of sorts, someone whose lustrous singing elevates every song on which he appears, whether it's his Benoît Pioulard recordings or those he issues with Rafael Anton Irisarri under the Orcas name. Much the same happens when Meluch's voice appears in the languorous album opener “Mmn,” an electro-pop serenade that nicely complements his murmur with sparkling synthetics and beats. Equally hypnotic and wistful, the subsequent “Revenant” likewise shows how effective the group is at fashioning a luscious backdrop for Meluch's singing. But such dreamlike splendour isn't exclusive to the Meluch tracks; if anything, it's more pronounced in “Signature,” even if that's attributable more to Future 3's radiant synthesizer treatments than Lahrmann's alluring vocal performance. Still, hearing her creamy voice wrapped in Future 3's soothing electro-pop textures during “Roller Coasters” and “Seen” makes for a listening experience equal to the one offered by “Alison” all those years ago.
On the instrumentals front, “August” brings to the fore the dubwise tendencies in Future 3's music-making, though the song's echo-laden production treatments are counterbalanced by the trio's emphasis on synthesizer-heavy sound design and melody. Much the same happens during the dub-techno cut “Camphor,” though in this case it appears that electric guitar has been added to the mix. The beatless meditation “Return,” on the other hand, offers a powerful exercise in melancholy grandeur. But as pleasant and polished as the Without material is, one can't help but listen to a glimmering reverie such as “O/A” and wonder how much better it might have been had melodic vocal lines by Lahrmann or Meluch been included.Though the quality level is high throughout With And Without, there's a conspicuous difference in impact between the vocal and instrumental pieces, a difference perhaps exacerbated by an album structure that sees the latter following the former rather than having vocal and non-vocal songs alternate. Mixing the content up in that way would have lent the album a more cohesive feel than leaving it feeling bifurcated.