ALBUM REVIEW: Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning by Forest Robots

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 2018, I gave glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here) and 2020 saw the release of his fourth, the critically acclaimed After Geography (read my laudatory review here).

Whereas After Geography was about exploration in nature outside the boundaries of a map, this album takes us beyond the external, physical world into the internal, metaphysical world and artistically explores the relationship between the two. In examining this philosophical relationship, it could be compared to the Transcendentalist philosophy espoused by people like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Transcendentalists saw nature as the outward sign of the inward spirit, which is similar to how Fran Dominguez “compares different aspects of nature’s cycles to our own spiritual and philosophical cycles and draws an analogous parallel between our external surroundings and our internal state of being….”

The album consists of ten tracks and opens with The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Widest Forests. It begins with plucked double bass which brings to mind one of the album’s stated influences, Pharoah Sanders’ Thembi. This represents more of a jazz influence than his previous albums and becomes part of the sonic tapestry.

It quickly develops into a vast soundscape of intermingling classical guitar, bass and atmospheric synths that perfectly captures the picture conjured by the title. Gradually other instruments emerge, haunting piano creating a cavernous feel. The crystal clear Nick Drake-style acoustic guitar has an almost harp like quality, exquisitely recorded and performed. You can also hear the influence of another ambient composer Gigi Masin.

This unique blend of ambient, Satie-esque classical and drone continues with the second track Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height. Beginning with wisps of delicate, spectral sound it is given a more earthy tone through warm organ and mesmeric use of exotic percussion that shows the influence of Jon Hassell, another pioneer who merges world ethnic styles with electronica. This slightly more grounded style again perfectly mirrors the title, musically capturing the philosophical idea.

This focus on the earth provides the metaphor for growth in the third track All Good Things Must Grow Through Dirt First. The theme brought to mind the wise saying of the great psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung: “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell”.

After the first minute, which seems to suspend time with its gentle, almost unearthly momentum we hear the distinctive sound of a distant saxophone. It brings to mind the tranquil moments of John Coltrane’s Classic A Love Supreme and the famous fade out of Van Morrison’s Slim Slow Slider (Astral Weeks), both very spiritual works like this album. The blend of ambient and jazz works to great effect, with the sax providing a rich sonic texture.

The cycle of life we see in all of nature and how this is reflected in how we’re reborn each day is captured by fourth track We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day. The first thirty seconds are intriguing, seemingly sounds of nature that perhaps depict the start of a day in a natural setting.

This then leads into a hypnotic piece of ambience, with the use of wonderfully rich reverb making a single plucked guitar note sound absolutely vast. The development of gratitude is an essential part of progressing in our spiritual journey and somehow Dominguez manages to convey this musically here.

Some of his more experimental influences such as musique concrete come to the surface in the intro to the sagely titled In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Wisdom. It essentially takes piano and distorts the pitch to create a mesmerising, almost psychedelic effect which then develops into a magical array of drifting textures including xylophone and glockenspiel. One of my personal favourites on the album, achieving a perfect balance between melodic ambience and avant garde experimentation.

The influence of classical comes more strongly to the fore on Even The Tallest Leaves Return To The Roots, with strident staccato strings that merge with a haze of sound behind them. Developing into another intricate tapestry of interweaving melodies and percussive nuance, this track captures another part of nature’s cycle, as all leaves eventually fall back to the ground. In the final minute the percussion dies away, leaving a surge of ambience and swelling synths that create a moment of beautiful transcendence, perhaps depicting this completion of the natural cycle.

Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You starts with echo-immersed piano, once again recalling the simple but highly affecting style of French composer Erik Satie, and the use of other orchestral instrumentation gives this piece a modern classical feel. It again reflects the album’s theme of how nature is somehow a perfect metaphorical outward manifestation of our inner spiritual growth, and there is definitely an organic growth in how the music progresses from start to finish.

A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality is another important piece from the perspective of the album’s philosophy. Fran states in the album notes: “The issue of religion versus spirituality as tools to guide my daughter’s moral compass are at the forefront of my own personal journey to becoming a more competent moral guide”. The track is wonderfully tranquil with the beautiful sound of birdsong mingling amidst blissfully peaceful strands of melody, evoking once again the quiet awe one feels amongst nature.

This idea of taking spiritual inspiration and guidance from nature is continued with Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass which maintains the uplifting mood, augmented by the sound of rushing water. This piece in particular seems to merge all of Fran’s eclectic influences into a congruent whole, from classical to musique concrete.

The album closes with the solemn power of A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul. It’s a masterclass in how a minimalist style that mirrors the pace and expanse of nature can be so emotionally resonant, almost as if the music is the divine mediator between nature and the human soul itself (indeed, Beethoven said something similar to this). The piece has a brooding intensity so that when the strings swell towards the end it is truly affecting, and a most satisfying and apposite way to close the album’s journey.

Overall, this is another landmark album from a very unique composer and artist. Having made several albums that evoke the majesty of nature, here he explores how nature integrates with our own personal spiritual journey through life. His style has evolved further to incorporate an even wider palette of genres which he blends in a seamless way. Existing fans will be enthralled and many new ones will be gained, along with more critical acclaim.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky by Forest Robots

Times When I Know You'll Watch The Sky Album Cover Image.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 2018, I gave a glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest.

This latest album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, is the third full length album in the last two years by Fran Dominguez. Just as Supermoon Moonlight and Timberline And Mountain Crest were essentially musical odes to the seasons of spring and summer respectively, this album is a representation of the Stanley Horowitz quote about autumn: “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolour, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all….”.

It consists of eleven tracks and begins with the understated but wondrous Just Before Nightfall In The Forest. As with Fran Dominguez’s previous work, the music perfectly encapsulates the title, painting a sonic picture of certain magical moments in nature and conveying them to the listener. Swirling synth patterns are merged with a punchy electronic beat to create something modern yet unusually melodic and intricate for this era. This enchanting track acts as the perfect introduction to the album.

Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon continues the hypnotic vibe with a similarly paced rhythm. Starting out relatively sparsely with a simple but effective bassline, overlayed with synth patterns, it gradually develops into a complex interweaving of melodies and evocative pads that fill out the sonic spectrum. Once again, the music conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny and accurate way.

The mysteriously named yet brief It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath The Old Lake consists of an intriguing synth figure reminiscent of an old sea shanty, conjoined with a double bass. This leads into the fourth track, In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm, one of the most melodically beautiful and haunting tracks on the album. Based initially on a mesmeric celesta melody it then expands into a gorgeous, reverb-drenched harp arpeggio backed by a rhythm of great intricacy.

Fifth track Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum lives up to the wide eyed wonder of its title, mixing a bewildering maze of melodies with potent synths and beats in certain sections. It conjures up the magnificent expanse of a clear night sky and results in a similarly transcendent feeling. The Last Of The Melting Snow is another of the short interlude tracks, but makes a strong impression in its ninety second duration with its arresting swirl of almost psychedelic, morphing synths.

This leads into the hypnotic groove of the title track, which weaves a magical spell owing to its mixture of languid pace and subtle yet alluring melodies. The way the synths swell and combine with understated celesta melodies perfectly encapsulates the wonder of looking up at the sky and feeling humbled by its magnificence. After its five minute duration, the effect is one of blissful elation.

Then comes the superb complexity of eighth track The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain. With its masterly weaving of synth textures and melodic themes it brought to mind the ambient classic Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb, perhaps an influence on Forest Robots. Either way, this is one of the album’s most powerful tracks which leaves a distinct impression on the listener.

Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon is one of the longest tracks at five and a half minutes and, once again, paints a beautiful sonic landscape that conjures up the imagery of the title in an uncanny way. With a tranquil, blissed out tempo the music washes over you, transporting you to an ethereal mind state and having a gradually intoxicating effect.

This magical vibe continues into the enchanting Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light, which is based around some wonderful bell-like and harp melodies, the chord changes somewhat unexpected and taking us to some far out musical climes. Halfway through enters a potent synth theme which takes us back to the exotic wonder of the harp melody, gradually fading away with almost cinematic grandeur.

The album closes with another brief but beautiful piece, this one called Follow The Fog and The Rain. Once more, within its short duration it conjures a fully rounded painting in sound that captures the silent majesty of autumn and finishes the musical journey of this album in a most satisfying way.

Overall, this is another superb piece of work from composer Fran Dominguez. He’s managed to forge an entirely unique niche with his nature-inspired ambient instrumentals, which also incorporate other genres in a seamless way. Trying to frame the many moods and scenes of the natural world is no mean feat, but one in which Dominguez excels and here he raises his art to a high level.

As he has now covered three of the seasons, I look forward to his next work which I presume will capture the magic of winter in yet more enchanting and evocative music. Fans of this album should also check out the visual accompliment, “All Things Grow Faint With Great Adorn In Autumn”.

 

VERDICT: 9.1 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Inevitable by Forest Robots

Inevitable Cover.JPG

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez. He has previously released two full length albums, Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and Timberline And Mountain Crest (both of which I gave glowing reviews to, read here and here). These albums were essentially conceptual works, ambient instrumental soundscapes inspired by nature.

This latest release, Inevitable, is a distinct contrast to those works, moving into the area of traditional songwriting and featuring vocals performed by Dominguez himself. The genre is influenced by classic 80’s electronica/synth-pop groups such as Depeche Mode and Cocteau Twins, as well as a My Bloody Valentine influence in the use of guitars.

Set to a mid-paced, slinky Daft Punk-style electronic beat, the music is propelled by pulsing, highly melodic Depeche Mode synths and a subtle but effective bassline. This forms the bedrock for the distinctive, rich lead vocals with Dominguez singing in a low register not unlike Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan along with the understated style of New Order’s Bernard Sumner.

Lyrically, the song is essentially one about self-empowerment and not giving into the self-doubt created by a success-obsessed society: “They try to pretend that they know something that you don’t”. This builds to a momentous chorus with the mesmeric vocal hook, “When you know you know, you know…”. After this is a section of spectral guitars that gives the track an otherworldly feel akin to his previous work.

The second verse is direct in its unflinching honesty about life’s vicissitudes: “No point in pretending, heartbreak will always come…”. This is far from a ‘glass half empty’ outlook however, with the ultimate message hugely positive and empowering.

Overall, this is a bold step forward into unchartered territory for Forest Robots and already a highly successful one, creatively. Retaining some of the sonic qualities of previous material, Inevitable is a very well composed and performed synth-pop track, with Fran Dominguez’s vocal style as unique as his musical approach. Accessible, yet nothing like most of the mainstream music out there, Inevitable should gain Forest Robots a whole new legion of fans and open many doors.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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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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ALBUM REVIEW: Supermoon Moonlight Part One by Forest Robots

Supermoon Moonlight Part One Cover_preview

https://www.forestrobots.com

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.

This album, Supermoon Moonlight Part One, consists of ten instrumental tracks in the electronica/ambient genre. Dominguez cites various influences as musical inspiration, including electronic and ambient artists like Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada but also artists like Nick Drake, David Bowie and Radiohead. His overall intention with this album is to inspire a love of nature and encourage people to preserve our natural lands.

It opens with the haunting A Path In The Woods, which melds beautiful harp-like melodies with a skittish, complex electronica beat and atmospheric synths. It builds gradually, developing into a shimmering soundscape that has a pleasingly hypnotic effect. A captivating way to start the album.

Second track, Times When I Know You Will Watch The Sky, Pt.1, is even more dreamy. Consisting of interweaving melodic patterns and a subtle but highly intricate beat, the swirling glockenspiel-esque synth sounds create a magical tapestry which immerses the listener and instils a meditative mood.

Shapes Shift In The Distant Shadows maintains the mood and is another five minute track, though  this one is somewhat closer to mainstream electronica. It is built around a laid back four-to-the-floor rhythm, which develops into something restlessly inventive with all manner of syncopations and rhythmical intricacies flitting in and out of the mix. It is held together by the constancy of synth melodies which hold the attention till the end.

Fourth track Last Slivers of Moonlight is rather different. A moody, minimalistic and repetitive but addictive melody manoeuvres through some unusual harmonic changes and modulations and it brought to mind Philip Glass’s classical/ambient masterpiece Koyaanisqatsi. It shares the same restlessness and intensity, perfectly capturing the mood of a late night moon.

The beautifully titled Silhouettes Follow The Echoes then takes us into a more traditional electronic realm, developing into a Jean Michel Jarre-esque ambient journey with a pulsing beat. The high-end synth melodies add a lot of atmosphere, giving the music a crystalline texture. It’s perhaps the most instant track here and would make great soundtrack music.

Things turn rather weird and wonderful with the mindbending Then The Spider Turned Into A Cloud. With just a sparse but subtly intricate glitch beat, a lead melody drifts across the top, constantly morphing and pitch bending. It has a rather disorientating effect, but also induces the enjoyable otherworldly feeling you get from the best 60’s psychedelia.

And there’s more than a touch of the psychedelic in these titles, as shown by seventh track Mandelbrots In Winter. Mandelbrot was the 20th century mathematician who pioneered fractal theory and so this is presumably a musical depiction of snowflakes or other fractal shapes found in nature in winter. It’s one of the more opaque tracks, with an ominous bassline that never quite goes where you expect, melodically.

White Birds Dream of Dawn and Wind returns to more melodic climes, with a cluster of intertwining, soaring synth melodies set to a funky beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip hop record. This is one of the strongest arrangements and melodies on the album, with subtle musique concrete low in the mix helping to retaini the album’s consistent air of mystery.

Ninth track By The Stillness Of The Lake is as tranquil and beatific as the title suggests, though at only one minute long it acts as a prelude to the last track, Follow The Towers To The Moon.

This one has a unique vibe, with a quirky, rubber-band bassline and a rather groovy Daft Punk-style beat. It somehow seems to combine the cumulative styles displayed across the album in a grand finale, with a fireworks display of synergistic synth melodies deployed in a dazzlingly tapestry. It’s an apposite way to complete what’s felt like an epic sonic adventure.

Overall, this is a fascinating album that manages to give seemingly abstract instrumental music a sense of narrative and progression. This has been achievable due to the authentic inspiration of experiencing nature, which kick-started the whole project. The quality of the composition and production is first rate, which is all the more impressive as Fran Dominguez does it all himself, entirely. Fans of ambient and music lovers, in general, will find much to enjoy here and hopefully will feel inspired themselves to go out and appreciate nature in all its glory.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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