Forest Fire
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Forest Fire

Darien, Connecticut, United States

Darien, Connecticut, United States
Band Americana Folk

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Nov
06
Forest Fire @ The Bell House

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Brooklyn, New York, USA

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking backward for musical inspiration, or for focusing your gaze on the styles and aesthetics grouped together under the loose heading of “Americana.” The greatest rewards from this approach tend to go to the artists that are able to fuse traditionalist styles with more modern aesthetics, and the process can be rewarding to follow and absorbing to hear. Wilco, especially since Nels Cline has joined the band, have navigated the tension between familiar folk- and country-rooted styles and more dissonant elements through multiple albums. Castanets have worked with jazz and dub musicians while still retaining a core rooted in ballads and sacred music. That the lineup of Forest Fire, a bi-coastal rock band led by singer-guitarist Mark Thresher, includes occasional Castanets member Nathan Delffs seems like no coincidence. Forest Fire’s Survival occupies a similar terrain between what’s expected of Americana-influenced indie rock and something more expansive, though their still-evolving style has the ability to captivate and frustrate in equal measure.

“I Make Windows” opens the album in widescreen mode, with a strummed guitar and some vocals that grow from whispered to layered. It’s a solid campfire sing-along in which Thresher’s voice is bolstered by Myisha Battle’s harmonies, and it suggests, at the very least, that Forest Fire are careful students of The Band. The later “Sunshine City” balances Thresher’s voice with what sounds like a chorus of male and female vocalists as it contrasts his acoustic guitar with brief electric accentuations. The parallel structure is subtle but effective. And from hearing these songs, one might conclude that the group possesses a sense of their own strengths and dynamics.

Elsewhere, though, that self-knowledge seems much more in doubt. The album’s weakest points come when Thresher’s vocals are left alone, positioned with little instrumental accompaniment. “Fortune Teller,” Survival’s weakest point by far, consists of little more than Thresher delivering stream-of-consciousness lyrics over a monotonous drumbeat. His voice works best when it’s part of a chorus, or placed alongside a second voice for contrasting effect. Here it’s unaccompanied, pushed to its limits and reciting lyrics about how the narrator will “melt some faces with Gatling gun social skills”. The result is an awkward, unconvincing stumble that effectively derails the album.

Far more interesting is the jarring “Promise.” Over a pounding drumbeat and a cloud of feedback comes a buzzing saxophone, an instrumental choice that shifts the album’s mood from languorous and familiar to unpredictable and dissonant, and introduces the threat that Forest Fire could shift gears to no-wavey skronk at any time. The songs that follow retain some of that unpredictability. “Echoes Coming” ends with another roaring saxophone, while “Steer Me” takes a standard folk-rock lament and applies sheets of keening atop it. And “Slow Motion,” which closes the album, features the best use of Thresher’s voice in the twenty-six minutes that make up Survival; he sounds like a sort of maddened preacher, shouting out the song’s title over guitar, steady drumming, and a growing balloon of distortion. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the record, tying together its different elements and demonstrating a style far less indebted to those that have come and gone before.

By Tobias Carroll - Dusted Magazine



I have no idea how I found out about Forest Fire, but two days ago their infectious "I Make Windows" came on shuffle. After a little sleuthing, I found out that Forest Fire are a, surprise surprise, Brooklyn band, by way of Portland, specializing in atmospheric, bourbon soaked, tin-shack country folk. Sure, they fall into the extremely broad "Indie" category, but the songs off their record Survival feel more like urban twang or industrial hymns written in an abandoned warehouse in Bushwick than freak folk or goth folk or whatever the sweet folk the kids are digging this week is. Survival, released this summer, is an understated, overlooked gem that feels more like a stepping stone to something bigger than a master statement. Their bio notes that "Survival was recorded over an eight month period in two locations - Brooklyn, New York and Portland, Oregon. “Not all the members of Forest Fire live on the same coastline,” Mark Thresher explains, “So when certain friends roll through town, things happen pretty quickly.” Many of the tracks were recorded live in less than five takes, then maniacally overdubbed by a variety of players. Sometimes there was only one microphone for the entire band. Sometimes they pulled out a few more." If that's not enticing enough, NYC Taper favorite Sharon Van Etten and Nick Deiffs of the Shaky Hands lend their vocals on a few tracks. Oh yeah, and the album is available for free on archive.org, so what are you waiting for? - Chocolate Bobka


US quartet Forest Fire consider themselves a punk band who play folk songs, which means sacrificing studio finesse for live energy and meting out tough love to their rootsy instruments on this fine debut. The results aren't easy on the ear, dissonant brass and woodwind scronk away on "Promise", while Mark Thresher's Lou Reed-like vocals often seem to bear only the most tangential relation to a tune. But there's hidden gold amid the bricolage, particularly the hazy falsettos on "Sunshine City" and the Byrdsian harmonies on "Echoes Coming", which set up a beautiful tension between the songs' calloused textures and melodic gleam. - The Guardian


To take a detour around its use in classical music entirely, the violin, whilst a standard in folk circles, amongst the indie community (and especially, it seems, in the US and Canada), has undergone something of a revival in recent years. For a violin enthusiast that’s no bad thing; it is a powerful instrument. The range of tones and moods it can emit acoustically without the need for any use of digital trickery or clever modification is quite staggering. To reel off a quick list off the top of my head: the lilting tones and staccato tomfoolery of Final Fantasy, Warren Ellis’ incredibly distinctive dusty screech, earthy folksiness from Anni Rossi (okay, so that one’s a viola, but for the purposes of argument I’m going to use it anyway), and that’s not even scratching the surface of the Montreal collectives, Constellation, Broken Social Scene and their offshoots.

Having written out this list and drawn some fairly disingenuous (and not entirely appropriate) comparisons, I’ll now distance the subject of this review by stating that there is very little violin overtly present on Forest Fire’s latest long-player, Survival. However – and here’s the curious part – its sonic hallmark is somehow still scrawled indelibly across its entire length, seeping into each of the nine songs here to varying degrees of effect. This is in part due to the unashamedly lo-fi recording, built upon successive layers of recorded instrumentation. The resulting hum and fizz of multiple simultaneous guitars rises, drones and recedes through each song like John Cale’s wracked viola on the early Velvets albums. It’s this aspect that immediately snatches the attention, allowing Mark Thresher’s hoarse vocals to wrap themselves around you and sink in over repeated listens, and this aspect that draws immediate mental parallels with Constellation’s purveyors of folk-infused protest songsmithery A Silver Mt. Zion.

Which is not to overplay any resemblance; whilst that Canadian group’s music is cinematic in its scope and grandeur, the work of Forest Fire is closer, more intimate. The same dry, desolate atmosphere pervades through both artists’ work but where Efrim Menuck’s anguish is wrapped up in political and social conscience, Thresher’s ire is closer to home, no less felt but more overtly personal. These are songs of the most universal of human themes - of sex and death, of triumph and frustration, of joy and of fury – deconstructed and expressed in the most understated of fashions. The distant rattle and grind of guitar feedback that floats almost imperceptibly in the background of ‘Steer Me’ elevates what is ostensibly a simple strummed folk song to something far grander. Similarly, the whimsical slide guitar of ‘Thru My Gloves’ belies the sinister undertone to its subject matter, the battle between the darker side of human instinct and angelic purity encapsulated in a lover who “spreads [her] legs like wings.”

And still the phantom strings follow throughout. Album highlight 'Sunshine City' drifts, stately, through curtains of guitar fuzz and out the other side before the ghost violin – or is it a real one? – rests on a single windswept note as Natalie Stormann’s bandmates imperfectly harmonise her melancholy assertion, "I have sunshine in my life." By the time of closer 'Slow Motion' illusion becomes reality as a dissonant string chorus tears the very fabric of the song apart, leaving its beating heart exposed.

* Forest Fire 7 / 10

- Drowned In Sound


Discography

Survival
Fortune Teller single

Photos

Bio

Survival was recorded over an eight month period in two locations - Brooklyn, New York and Portland, Oregon. “Not all the members of Forest Fire live on the same coastline,” Mark Thresher explains, “So when certain friends roll through town, things happen pretty quickly.” Consequently, long periods of time passed between sessions and the songs sat untouched for months. Many of the tracks were recorded live in less than five takes, then maniacally overdubbed by a variety of players. Sometimes there was only one microphone for the entire band. Sometimes they pulled out a few more. “No one was in a hurry,” Thresher says, “but eventually enough material was gathered to justify putting something out.” ______________________________________________________________________ “For me, this thing is a document of stylistic integrity that felt very important to all of us at the time,” says Thresher. But Survival also houses a feeling of blatant disregard, one that unabashedly nods to the rich and historic landscape of American punk rock. The tracks are littered with out-of-tune horns, vibrant bursts of guitar and layers of screeching electronics. Nathan Delffs’ frantic guitar work threads throughout dark and carefully executed harmonies by the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Myisha Battle and Nick Delffs (Shaky Hands). Ghostly synthesizers, arresting vocals and loose percussion are woven together under the glimmering production values of Adam Spittler. Thresher’s lyrics also require a close listen; while brief, they remain consistently purposeful and sincere. _______________________________________________________________________ Survival is a moment-to-moment kind of recording. Songs of total grit will suddenly part to reveal blue sky, before dissolving once again into disorder. On tracks such as “Slow Motion” and “Sunshine City”, sparse arrangements creep along, then grow as thick and tangled as jungle brush. On “Through My Gloves”, Thresher spits in waves, threatening and concise, and ditches the restrained lyrical approach for a moment. He casts a convincing scene; “I’m living for what’s on my mind”, as if to defend something sacred. In contrast, “I Make Windows” aches along delicately and the catchy and imaginative “Fortune Teller” holds an outright pop sensibility. Although Thresher describes it simply as “something that felt very important to all of us at the time”, Survival is a modern album, built with enough fortitude and spirit to warrant repeated listens.