Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning – Forest Robots (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Ask me to name the things that I love about Forest Robots and it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps start with the names of the tracks. Take, In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom, for instance, it sounds like a piece of ancient teching rather than a song title and with the instrumental music that Forest Robots, aka Fran Dominguez, makes it is such titles which provide the only lyrical guide to the music. Then there is the music itself, spacious and beguiling pieces of drifting sonics inspired by the wilderness and wild places and acting as a soundtrack to such isolated locations.

I love the time that the music takes to work its magic. Slow and restrained, gently wrapping gossamer layers and opaque textures around itself as it gracefully drifts towards its musical conclusion. Then there is the fact that the music is unaffected by fad or fashion, happy to sit apart from styles and scenes, like Fran Dominguez himself, exploring paths less travelled and turning that geography into music.

So a new album from Forest Robots is always something to be welcomed with open arms, and indeed ears. Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, as always, is much more than about music inspired by the physical geography of the world beyond the city limits and the lights of civilization. It is about the reflections and thoughts which come from spending time in such places, a meditation on life accessed and ccellerated by the quiet and vastness of the open. This album explores themes of spirituality, existentialism and ethics but also, being a parent himself, Dominguez meditates on parenthood amid the global instability of today’s world. What started as a love-letter to his daughter about the value of the natural world has blossomed over time into an accoustic essay on life itself.

The Biggest Soul Searches Require the Widest Forest rises to open the album, beguiling bass pulses and shards of shimmering electronica arranged in non-linear patterns balancing almost, random structures with intriguing off-beat melodies. And leaning more towards the orient than the occident as it does so. All Things Must Grow Through Dirt First speaks volumes in its title alone, a reminder that everything starts small, that remaining grounded is vital and then expressing such a notion through tendrils of sound which seem to slowly grow towards the light.

It is perhaps in A Church is Religion, A Tree is Spirituality that gets to the heart of Forest Robots both musically and philosophically. Religion suggests conformity and control, spirituality infers a more personal connection to the universe. It also reminds us of our connection to the earth and our duty to preserve it. And as the chiming notes and cascading tones rain down through the music, it is easy to imagine yourself at one with the landscape, the planet, the universe.

Even The Tallest Leaves Return To the Roots is another track that says so much through the title alone. A reminder of the cyclical nature of all things, that achievement is transient, that all things return to the source to begin again, shards of strings and droplets of sound seem to drift down on a wash of rising background sonics to begin the journey again.

This masterful album is all about understatement and space. Even the track titles, 87 words in all, arranged into 10 statements, have more to say than most artists contribute in their entire career. It is an album that blurs the lines between ambient electronica and drone, synthwave and neo-classical, is filmic and meditative and most of all unique.

If comparisons are to be found it is in the work of the likes of Brian Eno and Boards of Canada and perhaps even Four Tet. But like all of those artists, it is their singular vision and ability to explore their own creativity which means that such artists can only provide the most passing of references.

Rarely has an album been able to say so much with so few sonic strokes and, in a canon of brilliant albums, Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, is a fantastic high point. Although when Forest Robots releases the next one, I’m sure I will be saying much the same.


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