ALBUM REVIEW: Timberline And Mountain Crest by Forest Robots

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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: World Of Illusions by Reflected Illusions

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http://reflectedillusions.net/

Reflected Illusions is the musical brainchild of composer/producer Rez from Toronto, Canada. This music project is in the Electro/Ambient/Experimental category with an emphasis on exploring sonic textures and atmospheres to create unique soundscapes.

The first album by Reflected Illusions, Psychosis, was released in 2004. After a quiet period, the EP Radio Waves was released in 2016, followed by Private Files Volumes 1 & 2 in the same year.

This year, 2018, sees the release of this five track EP, World Of Illusions. It begins with the four minute Narcotics, which is evocative from the start. Haunting, eerie strings combine with a simple but effective Rhodes-esque rising chord sequence.

Gradually, the sonic texture builds with subtle rhythmic patterns which become more prominent and develops into an intricate beat that drives the whole track forward. It is aptly named, as it has a mesmeric, drowsy and dreamy quality that someone on narcotics may experience! It ends with just the disembodied strings floating away, as if into outer space.

This sense of otherworldliness continues into the title track, which comes next. This one is like a very blissed out version of EDM, with a steady four-to-the-floor beat kicking in after a spectral introduction of icy synths. The syncopated, filtered synths allow the kick to breathe, while a tapestry of melodies weave their way in and out to create a hypnotic and compelling sonic journey.

This flows seamlessly, no doubt by design, into the psychedelic sound world of Waterfalls of Babylon. The magical, swirling and echoing synth sounds that reminded  me of The Orb’s ambient classic Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. A complex glitch beat gradually starts to evolve across the track, which works as a nice contrast after the relative rhythmic simplicity of World of Illusions.

Fourth track Overdose is darker, with moody low-end organ and a fuzzy toned ominous sounding bassline over a sparse, angular rhythm and enigmatic Rhodes chords. Again, its an interesting contrast to the preceding tracks and perhaps the most mysterious one here, bringing to mind the more ambient moments of Radiohead .

The final track is Hydrocodone, which sonically manages to sound like the previous four tracks blended together. It fuses spacey, crystalline synths with darker edged low end synths and a haunting, sombre chord progression over a skittish, restless rhythm. The suspenseful atmosphere it creates keeps the listener gripped until the end.

Overall, this is a fascinating musical journey that takes the listener into some unchartered sonic territory, like all good art should do. It is impressive how cohesive and seamless the five tracks work together in a synergistic way. For those looking for high quality and original ambient music, look no further.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: 120 Onetwenty by Daniel Biro

 

Daniel-Biro

A signed, limited edition of this album is available from Daniel Biro’s official website, click HERE.

Daniel Biro is a musician, composer and producer based in London. He was originally trained in jazz but his creative output has expanded into an eclectic array of genres including ambient, prog rock, psychedelia and fusion, to name just a few. These diverse sonic explorations have been fuelled by his love of analog synthesizers and other electronic sounds.

He has numerous film and TV credits to his name including work for the BBC, numerous award winning short films and the score for the film Things of the Aimless Wanderer, which was featured in several film festivals. Aside from his solo work, he plays live in two bands, an electric psychedelic jazz band called Mysteries Of The Revolution and an ambient improv band Echo Engine.

His influences are wide ranging as you expect; jazz greats like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, progressive rock like King Crimson and Tangerine Dream, ambient and instrumental artists like Brian Eno, Vangelis and Mike Oldfield. The influence of minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass should not be underestimated.

An understanding of these various artists is important in fully appreciating Daniel Biro’s nuanced music. This album, 120 Onetwenty, is an hour long musical odyssey that has taken six years to complete. It consists of ten tracks of varying duration, mostly under the category of ‘epic’ and has been produced entirely with Biro’s collection of vintage analog keyboards. This shows in the overall sound which is rich and full, as opposed to the digital sonic thinness of much mainstream electronic music.

Opening track Door is one of the shortest and serves as an introduction to Biro’s sonic universe. It sets a mood instantly, a soundscape that disorientates the listener by somehow standing outside space and time. Once this dislocation has been accepted, the music feels meditative and psychedelic in the most profound sense. Pitch shifting synths that sound like futuristic war sirens create a mesmerizing mood, mingling with delicate splashes of Rhodes piano, one of Biro’s favourite sounds.

Second track Ancient is the one of the ‘epics’. It’s a masterpiece in slow musical development, building in complexity naturally and gradually like Mike Oldfield’s finest work, though more minimalistic in style. The way the music grows and expands organically, almost symphonically, shows the influence of classical composers like Reich and Philip Glass. It also brought to mind the other worldliness of The Orb’s ambient classic double album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.

The main melody doesn’t begin for 6 minutes and then really starts cooking, continuing seamlessly into Nimbus. It begins with an arpeggio-based chord sequence on Rhodes before being joined by an airy high-end synth melody that makes the listener feel they are orbiting roughly around Betelgeuse. Flashes of organ act as a nice textural counterpoint to the more spacey synth tones.

The pulsating 6/8 rhythm continues and progresses in fourth track Itinerarium. Musically, it’s the exact halfway point between jazz and electronica, with a complex bass drum pattern gradually emerging as several themes and textures combine in a polyphonic spree (good name for a band?). It then breaks down into a fantastic Rhodes section, with some superb xylophone-esque melodies floating across the sonic spectrum. It slowly dies away like the embers of a fire, bringing this overall section to a close.

Fifth track Embark grips from the outset, with a catchy chugging synth riff combining with an excellent high-end melody that morphs through several sounds. This time the rhythm is an insistent groove in 4/4 that really explodes around the two minute mark. This piece is a good example of Biro’s unique fusion of genres; if pushed I’d classify it as ambient psychedelic jazz/electronica, but really it defies categorization!

Seventh track Levitator starts out hauntingly with a sparse use of sound and space  then unfolds with a superbly controlled natural sense of musical development. It eventually reaches an astonishing crescendo and climax that actually makes you feel you’re levitating. The synth sounds at this point are mind blowing, the music having an emphatic grandeur all the more effective for the understated style that precedes it. This one is my personal favourite.

Seventh track Barren is a wonderful piece of musical impressionism that conjures up the image of being marooned on an alien planet that’s, well, barren. Its mysterious atmosphere brought to mind some of the more abstract moments of Holst’s classic suite The Planets. The following Immortal is equally dreamlike and gives the impression of gently floating through space forever. Once again, it slowly develops into a spinning web of intricate themes and melodies.

Ninth track Returning is a continuation once again with the nicely overdriven electric piano having an almost guitar-like edginess to the tone, which adds a little grit to the overall sound. Spatial, reverb-drenched synth strings give this track an almost orchestral feel which certainly adds to the epic vibe. The music catches fire around the six minute mark, some fabulous speaker-panning swirling sounds creating an intoxicating effect.

The closing piece Outside strips things right down to a sparse, enigmatic soundscape….the sound of gentle rolling waves and the most subtle of melodic themes, while a plethora of sounds from outer space float around as if suspended in mid air. It feels like a suitably mysterious finale for what has been an epic musical voyage.

Overall, this is a highly ambitious but perfectly executed electronica/ambient album. It highlights the importance of the album as an art form, as this work takes the listener on a sonic adventure where the sequence and arrangement of the tracks form a symphonic whole. It’s an album that rewards the listeners investment of attention, and gives the magical feeling of being transported to another place. To fans of this kind of music it will be adored, but it deserves to be appreciated on a much wider scale. If you’re looking for a unique musical experience, look no further than Daniel Biro’s 120 Onetwenty.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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