Tue. Oct 22nd, 2019

Renowned For Sound

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Album Review: Forest Fire – Screens

4 min read

With their upcoming record Screens, Forest Fire have moulded their brand of Lou Reed-inflected noise pop into a set of tunes that is resplendent in some places, and perfectly minimalistic in others. In what is their 3rd full-length album, the band has latched onto a sound that feels authentically New York, both in its homage to past acts to have emerged from the area and in terms of the diversity that is inevitable in a city of that size.

ForestFireScreensThe synthesizer is a favoured tool in Forest Fire’s arsenal. For the first three songs, synth is prominent between the verses, and at times the chosen tone takes me back to the soundtracks of ‘90s video games. This is by no means a discredit to the band though; video game music can be seriously clever, and seriously catchy, and is a seriously under-appreciated form. The album is kicked off by Waiting In The Night, which balances its artificial electric sounds with an organic guitar tone and understated vocals. It is a leisurely track that triggers some laid-back nodding of the head, and is a perfect appetizer for the sounds to come.

The synth plays a more significant role melodically in the next two tracks, Yellow Roses and Passengers. In the latter, the repetition of a descending pentatonic instantly gives the tune an oriental character, which creates an interesting mood when intertwined with the vocals of lead singer Mark Thresher.

Monorail is the next tune, and I find it a difficult one to put my finger on. In a way it reminds me of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, a song in which everything seems sunshine and love until your friend tries to convince you it’s really about heroin addiction. It is uncertain from the start; a tricky drum pattern makes the time-signature difficult to pick, until some more layers are added for you to get your bearings. The song proceeds with a hazy warmth, blissful tones dancing above a guitar plucked in such a way as to sound like a harp. However, in the last minute or so, the song descends into discordance, replacing the carefree with chaos.

A filter on the synth and and a vibrato effect on the vocals give the following Cold Kind that cool kind of deep-sea atmosphere. The guitar’s surfy twang contributes to the ocean image, while the vocals move between a half-spoken style and melody lines that seem to hark back to ’60s psychedelia; perhaps a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd? Cold Kind then flows seamlessly into Fixation, a thumping instrumental that plays on a similar atmosphere to the one set up in the preceding track.

The beat and the bass that form the basis of the next piece Annie are noticeably similar to those in Stealers Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You, a song that has invariably caused me some apprehension since I watched a man lose an ear to it in Tarantino’s film Reservoir Dogs. But there is nothing grisly about Annie, which, at the risk of over-doing it with the Lou Reed references, could happily slot into the Velvet Underground’s repertoire. It goes for 11 minutes, but it didn’t need to; it’s a song that could easily clear that kind of length in a live setting, but there are points in the recording that are a bit too empty to go on for as long as they do. But that said, it is a great tune and a welcome piece of raw lightheartedness after the dreamier songs it followed.

It might be because a female voice is prominent in The Great Wall, but this track has a more youthful feel. However, the sense of nostalgia it creates doesn’t last long before we are pulled back into reality by Alone With The Wires, which asks ‘who’s gonna pay for lunch?’ in a kind of despairing tone that makes you feel bad for smiling as you listen. But I do smile, as I listen over and over. It’s my favourite track on the record, and is one of the stronger melodies I’ve heard coming from any act working within a musical genre which has a prefix like ‘noise’ or ‘art’ attached to it.

This is followed by Never Far which sounds a bit like a modern interpretation of a romantic ’50s sound. But just so we don’t get confused about what kind of group we’re dealing with, the record is capped of with a healthy amount of guitar feedback.

Buy ‘Forest Fire – Screens’ from Amazon

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