Painted Girl - Familiar Trees of the North West
Familiar Trees of the North West
May 22, 2022
The organic notes that begin this sprawling album give little indication as to the humbling expansiveness that will follow. The plucked strings are austere in the melody they present, but their delivery is upfront and confident. They communicate a closeness to the listener. However, behind these notes something begins to ameliorate. Slowly appearing as if from miles away, a troubled euphoria seeps into view. Rattling noises begin to seep past as well, like the vibrating of some great ancient coil that stretches up to the horizon. The plucked notes stay very central, but this encroaching mist of melody draws closer, as if a great shroud was appearing behind a sole instrumentalist in an infinite landscape. This mantle of ambience is cast off, or at least relegated to the distant backdrop as piano and strings adopt the same longing cadence. Forest Robots’ opener is a staunch and unabashed taste of the magnitude the artist display throughout the album as a whole.
Light organ keys find their way into a meandering melody that sustains this sombre, stony feeling. This backdrop is filled more centrally by plucked instruments, the edges of which are eroded, sharp and jagged. They too find their way with an improvisational feel, weaving in and out of happy and more solemn tributaries. Here again the listener stands stationary, watching a scene bloom around them. No certain pathway or singular journey, just the freeform growth of nature making its way, guided gently by the non-didactic bass that thrums like the slow passing of time. On Sustenance Comes From The Root Not The Height, it sounds as though some of the instruments sit in blaring sunlight. As they seem scorched and brittle. Though everything moves with this beautiful vitality.
On All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First, long drawling notes beckon the gnarled sounds of an electric guitar. These wiry notes gain a pure structure in the deep bass sound that begins to weave a path in alignment. There is a feeling of the grizzled post-rock about the album, with more than a passing likeness to Mogwai’s earlier material. That starkness, each part of the instrumentation seeming to build up this great empty expanse. Again the strong backbone of bass helps the track to begin to canter at a beautiful pace. Smouldering saxophone breaks through the desolation at points, tinging the soundscape with colour and vitality alongside dynamic piano.
On the fourth track, the album bursts into life in a way we have not yet heard. The very direct sounds of creatures surrounds the listener for several seconds. Although it feels synthetic, the furore that ensues sounds real. The rapid clucking sounds as if it comes from a grouping of large birds bathing in a pool or pond. Though the moment is fleeting, it makes a lasting impression. We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day has a general hum of positivity to it, tending to more positively euphoric feelings than the tracks before. The guitar sweeps across the soundscape like the gentle shimmering of an aurora, with a paradoxically icy piano playing out a deeply warming melody.
We meander slowly as we reach the midpoint of the album, guided into a beautiful, ever-changing vista. The start of our journey felt overwhelming, as if everything around us was too large to comprehend. Now it feels we've found a certain home within the endless land that stretches before us. The melody has within it a feeling of warning, but it is lightened by beautifully timed bells and chimes. It seemed so unforgiving at the start, but on In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Wisdom it feels as though we have curried a certain amount of respect from our surroundings. And in a show of gratitude, the sky above us is illuminated with twinkling light.
A myriad of dazzling colours spread across the sky once again as Even The Tallest Leaves Return To The Roots. Achingly organic strings sparkle with sudden and resonant tuneful blips. This gives the track a sporadic and unpredictable feel, this is then soothed by mellow xylophone that rests gently atop the soundscape's purpling skyline. There is a tremendous sense of perspective, like that of a landscape painting in Forest Robots music. The background and foreground are clearly communicated, allowing for both an easy-listening experience, but also for incredible moments of transformation when these two slowly morph together. In this track, the ambient backdrop leaps suddenly to the front, swirling everything into one euphoric event.
Fizzling piano scrapes against restrictive EQing, then soothed by the bass section that has acted as a salve throughout the album. Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides In You sees the artist disregarding the usual calming gauze of background ambience. In this track instruments stride out confidently, hoping to control the melodic narrative. The introductory piano seems the most calculated aspect of the track, the drawling strings dipping and rising sporadically afterwards along with the bass. This does feel like a much more internal journey, there is no wide expanse here. Only fairly close obstacles to overcome.
A contrast of calming birdsong and haunting, gloomy notes begins A Church Is A Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality. The bright guitar notes go some way to illuminating the scene, but the mood is one of darkness. The melodies that emerge feel pained and unable to progress to somewhere more positive. Though the journey of each track can be fairly similar, there is something in the variety of instruments that causes every song to flare with life. Here, it is a raindrop bell sound that causes the dismal scene to glisten for a moment with a rejuvenating moisture.
A different experience still in the penultimate track. A shoddy hologram of natural sounds is engulfed by swells of electronic chords and carefree melodies. The explicit sound of a MIDI-choir can be heard at points before the voices wash into the general furore of sound, especially when the notes dip low. Though only appearing every now and again, the choir is strategically placed, pushed at certain points so as to soothe the listener in their strange and unpredictable journey. Sharp strings nip at the listener with short bursts of notes, Forest Robots seems intent on shielding the way forward and guiding us down a slippery and unforeseen path even toward the conclusion.
A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul creeps into its form subtly, starting with moody, low-end notes. There is a certain signalling toward the more ambient beginnings of the album. The artist manages to conjure up more clearly formed sounds from this numb throbbing that begins the track. The clear, almost glacial sound of vibraphone notes steps so assuredly out of the murkiness, allowing other sounds an entry point. Nothing is incidental or by chance. Like nature itself, each note and movement is communicated with a steadfast permanence and actuality to it. Nothing leaks out by accident, the engineering of the stereo field ensures that all of the sounds exist purposefully in the same space, and from this a real feeling of depth and perspective is achieved. Even now, on the conclusive track, the artist holds everything steady. Nothing in this world is beyond the control of the creator. The natural scene swells with this deep meaningful austereness, placated slightly by the resonant colours of the plucked and pitched percussion until everything drifts from view.
Every note on Amongst A Land Of Spiritual Reckoning has this weight of personal experience tied to it. Though it feels very arbitrary at points, this is merely a testament to the knowledge Forest Robots possesses of the treacherous path through the album. There are moments within the album that are as geographical as they are sonic. Within the ten tracks are small coves that act as respite from the encroaching darkness, great vistas that stretch out past comprehension and huge towering mountains that stretch toward the azure blue. The artist presents them all with a keen eye and a loving reconstruction.