Future of Forestry’s New Album “Pages”
Review: A Perfect Landing
You gotta love a band named after an obscure (but wonderful) C.S. Lewis poem. And “Pages” has to be one of my favorite albums of 2015. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first a little background on how this album fell in our laps.
Eric’s Owyoung’s band Future of Forestry — a beloved indie group — recently caused quite a jolt in the indie music world. On April 1, without any warning, they released a new 12-song album called “Pages” on iTunes.
(This surprise move included the release of a special 14 song version of the album on the band’s online store. They also made a 14 song hard copy available that contains a Polaroid of Eric Owyoung in the recording studio, with a digital download of the album also included.)
Eric recently said this about the album and why they did a surprise release: “This album is really different than other FOF albums. I didn’t want to spoil it by releasing a few hints or songs ahead of time, so I thought springing a surprise album release would be appropriate. I wanted the listeners to have immediate access to the music and to be moved as much as I was in the season of writing it.”
So is the new album moving? Is the new album a happy surprise for music fans?
Absolutely, and — after having a few weeks to absorb the new album’s content — here are a few reasons why:
1. There is a plausible, convincing match between the power of the lyrics and the songwriting. I use the word “plausible” in the sense that the music — the chords, the instrumentation, the production, the melodies, the harmonies, the little riffs and guitar figures and cello groans — all of it carries the emotion of the lyrics. “Hold My Hand,” with its simple refrain in the chorus — a plea for companionship or perhaps an invitation to embark on a journey and endure the frightful moments of life with a loved one — needs only a few words. The music tells the rest of the emotional story. Such as it goes for the rest of the album.
2. I love the variety. The album simmers with heat and subtle genres — folk, Gospel, modern indie, hints of a vintage southern rock/gospel ballad (see Track 4, “How To Fly”). Track 10 “Trust” — particularly the verse — musically reminds me of some of Radiohead’s best melodic moments in “OK Computer.” The haunting lap steel guitar in the title track “Pages” mixes so sweetly with the little descending piano arpeggios and the gorgeous vocal lines. And the reverb-dipped guitar figures panned hard right offers a perfect complement to the lap steel panned left.
And then there’s Track 7 “Fireflies.” This masterpiece begins with a steady, hypnotic piano strike that rings out into a fresh nightfall — which is what I imagine as I hear the swelling blue synth behind the piano — and then the melancholy, contemplative, joyful, confused, nostalgic, hopeful, quiet tenor vocals walk calmly across the night landscape. A cello’s balletic steps dance under the stars later in the song.
On “Slowly,” the acoustic guitar presents a “wow-I-wish-I-wrote-that” chord progression that will make every songwriter green with envy — topped off with virtuosic production, mixing, falsetto (which occupies the perfect space in a higher octave above all the other instruments), and restrained instrumentation. Ugh. It also makes you mad how good it is.
But “Fireflies,” so far, is my personal favorite — such perfection and craft, and the emotion is irresistible.
3. The track order. Wow. A good track order can become just as artful as the most labor-intensive mosaic or complicated painting or piece of architecture. The arrangement of the tracks carries you through the album with the exact pacing that the atmospheres and rhythms of the songs demand. By the time I reached the acoustic version of “Someone,” it had that final sigh — that restful descent of a glider’s perfect landing after it has taken you on a long, satisfying journey.
“Pages” is a work of musical artisanship. It captures human nature — both the nightfall and noonday of our beautiful, tragic existence (and the light of faith amidst all of it) — with the kind of production, arrangements, songwriting, and performances that make you just shake your head and think, “Yes, that’s it. That’s how such things should be done.”
Oh, and there’s a jaw-dropping — just absolutely gorgeous — cover of “Time After Time.” It brought tears to my eyes.