'Tuned In' review: Forma unabashedly embraces beauty of vintage synths

Forma's 'Off/On'

Forma's "Off/On"

“Off/On,” Forma (Spectrum Spools)

Modern electronic music sometimes conjures an apocalyptic spin on futuristic sounds — dark and foreboding rhythms invaded by jarring, ear-splitting riffs. In contrast, the enticing act Forma goes back to the good old days of synth music, when it was meditative, if vaguely eerie (in a nonthreatening way).

The Brooklyn trio of Mark Dwinell, Sophie Lang and George Bennett come by their quaint style honestly by drawing upon a battery of vintage synthesizers from the likes of Moog, Roland, Yamaha and others.

The result is an instrumental “Off/On” that sounds like the score of a 1970s sci-fi film, or perhaps like the background music for those waiting in line at Space Mountain.

Many tracks are transfixing or ambient, but a few have more movement in the mix, including opener “Off,” which piles on layers of fluttering, floating and gurgling loops and then underscores them with a driving drum-machine program. Meanwhile, the buzzing cut “Forma293” is frenetic almost to the point of discomfort and “Forma286b” juxtaposes urgent cadence with unhurriedly sweeping notes.

Forma is a bit more endearing with the calming, atmospheric stuff (although these are also the tracks that might test a listener’s patience). The loping “Forma360c” and marching “Forma315” stutter-step their way while bearing the weight of cinematic drones. And for its part, the cascading synths punctuated by low, reverberating notes on “Forma358” are the synthetic equivalent of an acoustic New Age song keyed to waterfall and wind-chime nuance.

“Mecanique” is literally the centerpiece, a mid-album cut that sprawls for more than 11 minutes and gives the vibe of a cosmic journey, travelling through space and passing planets, asteroids and space debris (encounters that are represented by individual effects that grow prominent and fade away).

Some may regard “Off/On” as cheesy or uneventful, minimalistic music for synthesizer geeks.

But synthesizer geeks don’t care what others think.

Rating (five possible): 3-1/2

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