In 1991, the course of electronic dance music was forever changed by a couple of blokes from Leeds. Critics regard Frequencies, the debut album of LFO, to be a game-changer, one of the best albums of the 1990s, one of the most influential electronic or dance albums, an album that brought the bleeps of British techno and raves out of the clubs and into the mainstream. From that point on, this sort of music was no longer solely consigned to 12-inch singles that were brief in length and disappeared from charts and minds very quickly. It would now be the album and the long-player that electronic artists would use to present their music, and a whole CD’s worth of material was now the way to go, with many great electronic artists being inspired by LFO’s success to produce some excellent long-players during the 90s – Orbital’s Brown Album and In Sides, the Artificial Intelligence series of albums from Warp Records artists, and the huge hit records of Massive Attack and The Chemical Brothers, to name but a few personal favourites.
If making your second album is difficult enough, then following up a legacy like that must have seemed like a Sisyphean task of monumental elbow grease. Indeed it would take four and a half years for the second LFO album to materialise, and it would be the last proper album from LFO in its original form – that being the duo of Mark Bell and Gez Varley. When Advance did finally hit the shelves 25 years ago, it charted only slightly worse than its predecessor, and critics didn’t exactly condemn the newer work, but they couldn’t help but compare it unfavourably to a past work that had been so iconic and revered. LFO became uncharitably known in some circles as “the Stone Roses of techno”, and then further fulfilled that description by quietly going their separate ways.
But here’s the thing – while Frequencies has ended up on more lists of great electronic albums and been cited as an influence by other artists more often than Advance has, I likely won’t be writing a 30th-anniversary reappraisal of Frequencies in the same way that I’m currently celebrating Advance’s birthday. Don’t get me wrong, Frequencies is likely well-deserving of its status and a lot of fun to dance to, but I personally find its very 90s sound and its relentless rhythmic pulse to be a bit dated and cheesy. There also isn’t a great deal of variety, with every track sounding the same, and being yet another four-to-the-floor banger.
However, there’s something said for electronic music that’s a bit more cerebral and multifaceted, and that’s what we got with Advance, which kept the notorious low end and hard-hitting beats that LFO had become known for but took their sound somewhere different and exciting, taking cues from the new craze of ambient house that had cropped up in the intervening years since Frequencies. The duo made a conscious effort to avoid the easy path of repeating past glories, instead, taking more time to create something that was genuinely just as innovative and unique. As Mark Bell put it in a 2003 interview: “The second one is harder unless you’re going to repeat yourself… and repetition bores me a bit, it’s a complete wasted opportunity to be creative.”
And creative this album certainly was.
LFO’s Advance is out now via Warp Records. Watch the video for ‘Tied Up’ below: