Forma Credit: Augustin Doublet

New York trio Forma promised some changes with Physicalist, their 2016 debut for Kranky Records, but while it’s a retreat from the techno flirtations they served up on their 2014 EP Cool Haptics (The Bunker New York), the first half of the album offers a familiar approach. Sharpening up the basic MO of their 2011 self-titled debut and 2012 album Off/On (both on Spectrum Spools), they place a pop focus on late Kosmische tools and the pioneering synthesizer music of Laurie Spiegel, deploying an array of synthesized sounds—rubbery post-Kraftwerk synth arpeggios over rolling bass tones and driving, uncluttered dance beats—using tactics common in 70s and early 80s electronic music. For me things get much more interesting on the back half of the album, where Forma start to push into different terrain. On “As If Pianos Grew on Trees,” keyboardist John Also Bennett shifts his focus to an acoustic piano—albeit one drenched in reverb and milky effects—with layers of cascading runs colliding with swooping electronic lines and curdling passages of contemplative serenity, the unsettling tones and warped overtones presenting a more sinister sound than the album’s opening tracks. “Collapse of Materialists 2” sticks with electronics but dispenses with beats to deliver a woozy deep-space excursion with gently pulsating drones occasionally prodded by low-end mist and dark, quavering stabs of drizzle. A slow-moving duet between Bennett and cofounder Mark Dwinell, the album’s closing track, “Improvisation for Flute and Piano,” offers the most radical shift. Bypassing new age simplicity for something unresolved and ambiguous, the song’s fragility and melodic beauty bob like buoys over ripples on the surface of a lake.   v