Artificial Intelligence – commonly refereed to as AI – has long been a safe and secure trope within the chapters of science fiction. Since the dawn of the genre, humankind has long been fixated with the prospect of birthing a creation that carries our sentience and intelligence all whilst being completely synthetic. Far-fetched in nature yes, but this trope has come to fruition in recent years.
Granted, we're but being given the run around by HAL 9000 or a devilishly dashing Micheal Fassbender just yet, but we're getting there. From common household fixtures like Siri and Alexa all the way to the more advanced military systems in development, AI has been achieved and yet we still don’t fully know if these technological advancements are inherently beneficial or the catalyst for disaster. It’s this thought experiment that the seventh record from German post-rock scholars Long Distance Calling probes and ponders.
Connected by liberally used repetitive monologues that ponder the nature of AI, like the garish album cover indicates, How Do We Want To Live? is inspired by, if not a product of, the halcyon days of prog and sci-fi. But at the same, it has its glinting eyes on the stars above. As the double kick combo of ‘Curiosity’ Part 1 & 2 showcases in striking plasmatic neon, this record sees the band doubling down on their tendencies to incorporate electronic elements into their work. Thumping space-time synthwave digitally surfs alongside sliding riffs and polished leads that flourish under a light of retrofuturism that feels entirely nostalgic and yet cutting edge.
‘Hazard’ strays from such sensibilities to focus on breezy post-rock techniques that’s in the key of God Is An Astronaut and Vasudeva, but its consecutive tracks really demonstrate the incredible dynamism and ingenuity that this record plays host to. ‘Voices’ is a looping robotic march that slowly indoctrinates tribalistic wailings in an amalgamation of two worlds separated by eons, ‘Fail / Opportunity’ sees synthetic junglist beats slow-dancing with emotionally rousing neo-classical percussion and ‘Sharing Thoughts’ is a LED lit waltz though post-nature landscapes.
Throughout all of this, classic prog rock hues reminiscent of Rush, Pink Floyd and even Stewart Copeland shine, but simultaneously, How Do We Want To Live? is radiant with experimentation and vivid atmospherics in a fashion that’s on par with the most thematic of post-rock. Every track implements something new and intriguing with the delicate precision of a surgical robot that’s far beyond the skill of human hands.
The juxtaposition – the one between retrospective ambience and current age genre dynamism – animates the central narrative and thought exercises at play. As the record progresses through its ten tracks, the mood sours; riffs ironise mechanically, the post-metal influences from their earlier work creep back in and an atmosphere of a portentous apocalypse swirls overhead. Even without the ongoing monologues detailing the nature of AI - ever so slightly overused commentaries that are shoehorned at best, pretentious at worst - the concept is utterly vividly cinematic.
The most striking track within this release is certainly ‘Beyond Your Limits’ however. For those unknowing, Long Distance Calling reserve a track within each album to feature guest vocals and this time around it’s Eric Pulverich of indie-rockers Kyles Tolone making an appearance. The vocalist and band in question are relatively unknown on our shores, but Pulverich’s menthol stained crooning only makes for an ode that feels like a product of the last century and wondrously exquisite – if not totally out of place when compared to the rest of the album. Considering it’s the eighth track on the album, the beautiful if not nightmarish finale that explores the potential malevolence of AI feels somewhat overshadowed by this moment. It’s definitely going to be a polarising inclusion.
If you can mesh with the more polarising inclusions here, such as the ongoing commentary that's oddly reminiscent of the aforementioned Rush's 2112 and the 'Beyond Your Limits', this record is highly likely to be among your end of your list - if not crowning it. If not, you're still in for an incredibly cinematic musical journey. It’s the perfect soundtrack for digging ones nose into one of those paperback novels the album cover shares similarities with, and even if you’re lacking a penchant for thick glassed sci-fi, it’s impossible not be creatively inspired by this record’s flawless exploration of ambience and its understanding of homogeneous narrative and sound. The rise of the machines may be far off (for now) but this record is set to see Long Distance Calling stake their rightful claim as one of the genre's finest.