ALBUM REVIEW: Timberline And Mountain Crest by Forest Robots

Screenshot_2018-11-25 Timberline And Mountain Crest, by Forest Robots.jpg

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature. This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born.

In May this year I gave a glowing review to the album Supermoon Moonlight – Part One. This follow up album, Timberline And Mountain Crest, has been completed just eight months later and consists of ten tracks. It is somewhat of a musical progression from the previous album; whilst Supermoon Moonlight had been based around nature-inspired ambient electronically with orchestral elements, here he retains the same natural inspirations whilst branching out into a more rhythmic style, incorporating synthwave, soul and funk. It has been described as Ambient R&B, and that is a good description.

Opening track Sudden Bioluminescence is a fine representation of this more expansive style. It starts with a swathe of atmospheric synths combining with pulsating, rhythmic synths which build the tension nicely. Then we hear an intricate yet languid dance groove enter, filled with subtle syncopations and rhythmic intricacies.

This becomes the foundation for a series of lead synth melodies which complement each other perfectly and maintain an excellent sense of melodic continuity. After breaking down midway, it builds back up then cleverly combines the various themes to great effect. It’s a very complex track, yet easy to listen to and built out of only three chords.

The evocatively named Where The Wild Summer Storms Run lives up to the promise of its title. Locking quickly into a tight 2/4 groove, the ear becomes hooked to the catchy synth melodies. A second section featuring some 80’s style chiming synths is a nice touch and towards the end we hear a theremin-style synth that adds more flavour to the sonic texture. One of the strong aspects of this album is how the titles perfectly fit the music, or rather how the music paints and portrays the title in sound.

Third track Through The Trees And Into Wide Open Landscapes is a good example of this quality. Beginning with the meditative ambient style which characterized Supermoon Moonlight, it gradually evolves into epic electronica with interweaving rhythms and melodies working in perfect synchrony.

This one works as a showcase for his compositional and programming skills, and the overall effect is hypnotic. Towards the four minute mark the music seems to evaporate and morphs into an otherworldly, disconnected section that evokes the ‘wide open landscapes’ of the title.

Between The Orange and Purple Horizon starts with a beautiful harp-esque synth melody, joined by a swingbeat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip hop record. As the piece develops, it gradually becomes more serene and dreamlike with some truly magical electronic sounds. You can easily picture the horizon in your mind’s eye, conjuring images of being stood on a mountain top staring at the sky. A transcendent track and one of the album’s finest.

After two epic five minute pieces, the eighty second Treading Where Others Have Perished acts as a nice contrast, a sparse but potent track that maintains the elevated vibe from the previous one.

Sixth track As The Sun Rises Between Timberline And Mountain Crest is essentially the title track of the album and feels like its centrepiece. It consists of a delicate, haunting piano figure that perfectly captures the sense of quiet awe and wonder a person can feel in nature. Aside from the repeating piano melody, we hear equally subtle bass which just lets one note per bar ring, giving a ‘floating in mid air’ effect which is augmented by sparse but powerful string synths.

On A Desolate Shore Under A Full Moon stands out from the pack with its angular, highly intricate funk beat and pizzicato strings that work as the main melody. The second section contains a multiplicity of melodies and percussive elements which acts as a counterpoint to the relative sparseness of the main section. I loved the use of a glockenspiel-type sound which gave it a magical feel, again apposite considering the title.

Track eight, Farewell Sudden Summer Storm Clouds has a tranquil quality, sort of what you might describe as the calm after the storm. There’s a slightly exotic, Eastern aspect to some of the themes and once again shows his talent for handling complex melodies and textures. When the soft beat breaks down at the end it allows the music’s subtleties to breathe and it finishes on a mystical high.

When Forest Leaves Begin To Change is about summer turning into autumn, an ambitious concept to try and capture in sound. But, indeed, the plaintive melodies do have a distinct autumnal vibe and you can feel yourself drifting away in its intoxicating and mesmeric sound world. Again, the music gradually builds in a clever, organic fashion and really blossoms at the end.

It leads to the album’s final track It’s Quietest At The Edge Of The Crestline which brings us full circle in terms of the title and overall concept. It’s an unearthly, hymnal piece of ambient music that casts a potent spell with the translucent, natural beauty of its sound and mood. Again, it captures that sense of deep wonder that the greatest of nature’s vistas can evoke and makes a fitting conclusion to this musical journey.

Overall, this is a sonic odyssey that takes its artistic inspiration from a deep love of nature, like much art of the past, musical, visual and literary. However, by incorporating the genres of ambient, soul, funk and synthwave in a seamlessly integrated way, it resurrects this form of inspiration and brings it decidedly into the modern era. It will appeal not only to ambient fans, but electronica fans in general  and, in fact, music lovers right across the board. With a wealth of melodic and rhythmic detail that reveals itself on repeated listens, Timberline and Mountain Crest is a journey you will want to take again and again.

VERDICT: 9 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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E.P. REVIEW: rEVOLVED by HADDOCK

rEVOLVED_Cover_15kbhttp://www.haddockmusic.com/

HADDOCK is the alter ego of studio and live drummer JonoMagro. Formed officially in 2013, the gestation period for this music has actually been ten years. After trying to find a replacement for the monotony of a metronome, he found that juxtaposing real live drumming with the precision of electronic instrumentation and sounds created a fascinating musical dichotomy.

As a seasoned drummer, he had immense experience behind the kit but had to modify it to fit the demands of his new project. That was the genesis for this five track E.P. rEVOLVED. The five instrumentals are a perfect balance between synthetic electronica and real, expressive drumming.

You can certainly recognize elements of his various influences. Among them, he lists Daft Punk, The Prodigy and film composers like Tyler Bates and Hans Zimmer. It all combines to create a unique style and sound that has the excitement and dynamism of dance with the brooding intensity of soundtrack music.

Opening track Kilgore is an excellent example of this, starting with pulsing low-end synths combining with dark high-end melodies to set an intense tone. Then the punchy,raw sounding drums enter with the impact of a breakbeat by The Prodigy, but this beat is constantly shifting under the listener’s feet in a 14/8 time signature.

This later becomes standard 4/4 and 2/4 later in the track and the way he constantly shifts the accents and syncopates the beat is superbly inventive. The synth riffs holds the music together, aided by some Daft Punk style vocoder effects towards the end of this arresting first track.

Second track Break is lighter in mood and features a repeated vocal sample throughout, which works as a good hook. The drumming on this one alternates between a standard four-to-the-floor dance beat to the highly intricate, almost tribal sounding tom-tom patterns of the middle section. Musically, it employs two synth melodies, both short and very catchy. You could really imagine this being played in a club and going down a storm, especially as the danceable beat stays constant throughout.

Detroit Slim, the third track, is a big change in sound as it features an electronic Daft Punk style 2/4 disco beat that most would assume is a drum machine (presumably played by triggering samples through his modified drum kit). This makes it pure electronica in the house/disco genre, with some funky synth riffs and more vocoder effects thrown into the mix. It’s another track perfect for the dancefloor, but very enjoyable to simply listen to.

Cave Thing again employs mostly electronic soundings drums but also incorporates the snare sound from the ‘real’ kit in parts. This track is my personal favourite on the E.P. as it seems the perfect encapsulation of the disparate musical elements involved. It features a superb hi-hat heavy dance beat (bringing to mind 90’s stadium house duo The KLF) which grabs you as soon as it enters. It has the brooding intensity of the first track with rising synth lines and insistent EDM-style snare fills that help maintain the tension.

The final track My Salvation continues in this style, though this time uses an almost hymnal synth melody over a deceptively fast house beat, and has a futuristic, soundtrack feel (think something like Blade Runner.) Its hectic BPM rate would make it a great track to finish a DJ set with and it makes a fitting finale to this E.P.

Intriguingly, right at the end, the original drum sound that we heard at on the first couple of tracks returns, bringing things full circle. Finally, the drums fade out leaving us in a sea of synth sounds…

Overall, this is a genuinely innovative and original piece of work that also manages to be accessible and commercial. It blended and balances elements of dance and rock, as well as human and synthetic very successfully, and every single track has a strong sonic identity which isn’t easy to achieve with instrumental music. With some very intriguing ideas for performing this live also, I think Haddock will become known as a pioneer in the electronica scene and look forward to hearing a whole album.

 

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.8 out of 10