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FM: Transformation

Worthy addition to a unique catalogue.

Often regarded as one of the most distinctive of all North American progressive bands, Toronto’s FM have a raft of albums which resist easy classification. Black Noise in 1977, for instance, was stark and adventurous. City Of Fear came three years later and evoked an electronically-fuelled dystopia. So, how does the new incarnation of FM live up to what the band has previously achieved?

They do it by not trying to emulate the invigorating invention of those earlier albums. Instead, the new-look band, led by sole original member Cameron Hawkins, have gone for a sound that’s both contemporary but also owes something to the late 70s.

Opener Brave New Worlds has a depressive tonality that marks out how tough it is to get to grips with the ever-changing mores of modern society. But as Hawkins’ vocals soar, augmented by Edward Bernard’s hypnotic, swaying viola and violin, there’s a final air of optimistic idealism. This is continued through Cosmic Blue, which strongly hints at a Yes influence, while never allowing this to become dominant, as the synthesiser chimes away alongside stirring string arrangements from the peripatetic Bernard.

There’s a languid, easy flow throughout Transformation, one which – from a lesser band – might suggest a sense of laziness. But that’s certainly misleading, because when you investigate a little further, it’s clear there’s a lot of density and depth to this music. Children Of Eve has a sophisticated, agitated perception, nudging along a lyrical fatality with brooding musicianship. And The Love Bomb (Universal Love) might seem to be superficially naïve in its philosophy that we will eventually find a way of stopping war, but it carries you along on its wave of positivity. This is underpinned on the subsequent Soldiers Of Life by an enduring cynicism, exploring the manner in which we have allowed technology to become terrifying.

With a languid easy flow, this music has density and depth.

But the album ends on a bright note. Heaven On Earth extols the virtues of nature and leading a simpler life, and that is the overall message. If we give ourselves over to the freedom within us all, then life holds wonders and imaginative joy. However, if we are enslaved by our own scientific advances, then fear lurks in every thought.

What FM have done is take this oft-repeated message and given it their own artistic twist. Each song stands on its own, while also being part of an arcing viewpoint. And the performances are of such magnitude that Transformation – partially inspired by Yes, Rush and Gentle Giant – is a highly plausible chapter in a story begun nearly 40 years ago.