Forest City & Friends – Forest City & Friends – Album Review
Aside from that whole worldwide pandemic thing, I think the timing on this record is perfect.
Or at least really damn close…Forest City & Friends might be at the forefront of a wave of exciting hybrid-Rock projects, albums, and bands kicking into gear in 2020 & possibly a sliver ahead of the rest of the crowd in getting their new self-titled record out this year when it’s released on March 23rd. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with settin’ the trend & leadin’ the pack y’all…that’s a solid position to take up in this whole music thing; but take it from me, the Alt/Pop/Rock sound is going to have an exceptional year – from Swami Lushbeard to the new project from Serlin-Greaves, there’s amazing stuff brewing up.
In the case of Forest City & Friends, lemme tell ya folks, the tree doesn’t grow too far from the apple, know what I mean? You might remember the son of one of the band-members in this collaborative crew – we reviewed Torin Muccino’s record For The Times back in 2018, and what you’ll hear in this new album by Forest City & Friends was in-part created by his old-man, Chris Muccino, along with Pete Giordano and Greg Goodwin to be found at the core. Of course, as implied, the ‘& friends’ part proves to be completely factual – there are multiple players & talented guest-stars that show up in this set of songs. Clearly the band was out to have some serious fun, but also take their fun seriously – you can hear it in the results; this self-titled record boasts a tight lineup of flawless cuts and skillful musicianship.
One of just two songs on the album to reach the five-minute mark, Forest City & Friends instantly give you something meaty to latch onto with the enticing mix of acoustic & electric that starts out “All Roads.” I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what this collective has reminded me of all week long as I’ve been listening…and I’ve come up with these tiny snippets & clips & moments that’ll remind me of a certain band or artist, but no moment lasts long enough to let the sound of Forest City & Friends become defined by a comparison – and you gotta dig that. I’ve been all over the map & back again, and it started with “All Roads” – from this introduction on-forward, I found comparisons to be made to bands like Minus The Bear, Eskimo Joe, The Doughboys, Brother Cane, Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Watchmen…and quite likely that list will expand as this review goes on, if only for a brief moment or flash of similarity. Listen to the technique & skill immediately on display in the drums and guitars…that smooth break into the wide-open & serene sound of the first verse to follow…the punch in the hooks that “All Roads” has in the thick of its chorus…the texture of the drum-fills, cleverly layered backing vocals, reliable bass-lines – Forest City & Friends prove they’ve got all the ingredients required to entertain ya in the music, and singer Pete comes out swinging for the fence with one of the most powerful performances you’ll find from the man on this record right off the bat. Highly engaging and a great gateway into the record – even with several repeat spins through this album at this point, “All Roads” remains one of my favorites.
Hittin’ up a more playful vibe in the flow & sound of “Forest City,” the contrasting lyricism & depth in the vocal-melody of the main hooks provide levity & balance to this song as a whole. For me, this track is almost all about that extraordinary transition between the verse & chorus…that massive hit of pure melody is wildly addictive…spots like around the forty-five second & 1:50 mark, those spots…incredible. Pete sounds fantastic, the writing is excellent, and the execution all-around by all hands on deck is fully remarkable. As “Forest City” heads into the 2:30-ish area, you’ll hear the band flex even more innovation & creativity with a pounding stop/start storm to the finish line, dramatically punctuating the experience with audible exclamation marks of sound. I’d probably say that the degree of accessibility for listeners out there likely comes up a notch as well with the catchiness in the vibe of “Forest City”- I’d probably be comfortable saying “All Roads” is a better song overall, but this second cut has more potential reach for the everyday set of ears out there. Might even make a solid choice as a single at some point down the road, though I’d argue there are a few cuts in front of “Forest City” in the lineup.
And wouldn’t you know it, here’s one now! Personally, I think a lot of listeners out there will be stoked on what they find in “Phone Booth” – there’s a solid argument to be made for this cut becoming a single from this record for sure. For one thing, the instrumentation is brilliantly versatile, current, and extremely engaging – this whole song is structured to build, deliver, build, and deliver, consistently releasing memorable moments along the way. What’s most impressive about “Phone Booth” in many ways is that it exposes a bit more of the experimental & progressive, ambitious & imaginative ideas that Forest City & Friends are capable of, clear as day. What becomes remarkable about that in particular is that “Phone Booth” likely remains one of the album’s most widely accessible songs…and for any tune with such an adventurous core, that’s always an accomplishment in itself. This works…and as the world knows, the banjo is freakin’ HOT right now…so “Phone Booth” also has that goin’ for it too, courtesy of a kickass riff & hook combo supplied by Muccino. LISTEN to the vocals around the 1:15 mark though will ya? Pete’s got some serious soul in his voice when he wants to flex that muscle, and the backing layers completely strengthen the vibe in all the right ways; yet only fifteen seconds later, he’ll equally impress ya when the music is at its most bare-bones & the pressure is fully on his shoulders. Dude’s got audible confidence and real craft in the way he sings…there’s no mistaking a true professional like this when ya hear one – Pete’s got a great voice and excellent range, but most importantly, the knowledge of how to use it in all the right ways to get the best out of both himself and the song. “Phone Booth” reaches fantastic heights and climbs into all kinds of inspired & exciting melodies along the way – & the low-key ending of how this tune just drifts hypnotically towards its final moments was a perfect way to finish.
Sometimes placement plays a role. Depending on what elements of Forest City & Friends you latch onto the most, you might feel like I did about “Lawland Blue” at first, which is to say it felt a lot more straightforward than the creativity of “Phone Booth” directly before it. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with that…and “Lawland Blue” is easily just as well-played & executed as any other song you’ll find on this self-titled record…but I was probably more on the fence about the impact it would make until it reached the incredible breakdown it has around the three-minute mark. As far as transitions go, as far as endings are concerned, as far as the sweetness & sincerity in a vocal-melody come into play…I mean, it really doesn’t get much better than the final minute-or-so of “Lawland Blue.” I also dig the extra grit in Pete’s voice around the 2:30-ish spot…you can hear him firing it up as best he can to give this song the edge in its bid for your attention, and he does a stellar job all-around once again. There is little to no doubt that the sweet-spot for “Lawland Blue” exists completely from that third minute to the end…it might arguably become even more of a simplified idea at that point, but there’s always something to be said for everything being in its right place, right where you wanna hear it. So…I mean…if I had to sum it all up, I’d say this about “Lawland Blue” – it’s a satisfying & reliable cut from the very get-go, but there’s almost no question about the fact it’ll go on to completely exceed your expectations by the time it’s over. Forest City & Friends turn what’s good into what’s great here.
“Spirit Sound” brings a bit of bounce & inspired energy back into play, immediately putting forth a combination of sound designed to grab your attention. This particular track has a bit of a mod-style of cool to it…not quite Post-Punk and not New-Wave either by any stretch, but like it comes from a similar era of sound…where “Spirit Sound” might make a great addition to a soundtrack of an action or mystery movie…something with a spy in it. Mind you, none of the lyrics are a reflection of this theory…Forest City…when it comes to the words, it draws on a more psychedelic (same era I’m talkin’ bout here) mix of imagery & emotion…where senses crossover and you can all of a sudden feel sound, you dig? As far as a comparison goes…I mean…we’re talking widespread sound here; you could hear anyone from David Bowie to a band like the Editors taking this on…or even a band like Blue Rodeo or Dire freakin’ Straights. And then there’s this odd like…performer-esque vibe I get from Pete sometimes that’s akin to like, David Lee Roth or something…doesn’t happen too often thankfully, but you can hear he’s got that ability to flip the switch into real showmanship terrain if he wanted to. I appreciate the fact that he’s keeping that hyped-up emcee gear in-check and making sure he’s got the right approach to suit the songs he’s been singing on this record, “Spirit Sound” of course included in that assessment. I think it’s got the advantage of a versatile sound & crossover style that could potentially draw in listeners from all over the place…it’s not my favorite of the bunch by a fair margin, but it also marks the last tune I’d even remotely question whatsoever on this self-titled effort. Because from here, you feel things kick into overdrive.
Here’s where I’m at…I want a hell of a lot more of “Dead Man’s Road” – especially the beginning of this tune! I love the partially spoken/partially sung approach being taken by Pete as he sings the verses of this song…very stylistic, very slick, very artistic – and you’ll find the color & personality in the music surrounding him does its best to rise up to that next-level in full support. There’s not a doubt in my mind that for many out there, the looseness you’ll find here in terms of structure & style will probably be a challenge for more than a few listeners…but for those of you out there looking for real meat on the bone in the music you’re listening to, make some room on your playlists for “Dead Man’s Road.” As the only other cut on the album reppin’ a five-minute length, Forest City & Friends have made sure to get this track loaded to the gills with wild entertainment; from the aforementioned stellar vocals, to the killer guitar solos from Chris, and the brilliantly low-key melodic ending in the very final moments, everything stacks up to a solid win here. It’s like beat-poetry as it begins…everything in the music and vocals has such extraordinary character that it completely pulls you in, and together Forest City & Friends never loosen the hold they’ve got on ya as they twist & turn through the design of “Dead Man’s Road.” To me, this is a smorgasbord of sound that satisfies on every level and pretty much checks every box…”Dead Man’s Road” is more of a noticeable combination of art & music as one, but again, this is another approach to their songs that is incredibly effective for Forest City & Friends. This anti-typical cut has the kind of uniqueness to it that keeps your attention fully locked on, just like a good story does as it unfolds and you’re discovering everything between the covers for the very first time – chapter after chapter of quality music comes beaming out of “Dead Man’s Road,” audibly flexing innovative ideas and spectacular sound long beyond when you even think it’s over. For real…technically the majority of the song is over by around the 4:30 mark, but I’ll be damned if the next thirty seconds isn’t equally addictive for just about all the opposite reasons as the ones you’ve heard along the way with how chilled out it is by compared to the most amped-up or adventurous moments we experience in “Dead Man’s Road.”
Conversely, here’s where we’re ALL at – “It Ain’t Nothin New” – which will absolutely be one of the easiest songs to like or love that ya might ever stumble upon radiating through your speakers. All of the ‘fat’ has been trimmed here…and there’s nowhere for Forest City & Friends to hide on “It Ain’t Nothin New” – it’s less than 2:30 in length, the album’s shortest cut by a large margin, and there’s not a moment or second for them to waste in the process. Like, I almost don’t even know what to say about this song other than it’d be completely crazy not to put this out there as a single or play it LIVE – because this track has the JUICE folks, this is a truly electric vibe. You’ll barely have ticked by the ten-second mark when you’ll have already been exposed to one of the biggest and most magnificent hooks that you’ll find in any track on this record – and overall, I think you gotta hand it to Pete once again for absolutely crushing the vocals on this song as perfect as could possibly be done. For a track that’s all of 2:24 in length, the amount of pure audio satisfaction you’ll find in this one tune will leave you with a full grin on your chin. The last thing I’d ever wanna do is take away from what Forest City & Friends can accomplish with extra time & space – it’s always used wisely – but I definitely would take a moment here to pause & reflect on just how right & tight every solitary second of “It Ain’t Nothin New” comes out. This track radiates accessibility from every pore of your speakers and begs you to turn it UP.
Pete is straight-up magic on the mic on “Companion” – but let’s be real here; it IS one of the album’s strongest songs without question as well. Another highlight example of the band at its finest and the songwriting at its most powerful, the subtle sweetness in the melody of “Companion” and the emotion you’ll find in this cut is beyond fantastic. Excellently smooth & stoic bass-lines from Greg stand out, the drums are as solid as ever, amazing guitars, and a performance from Pete that deserves an award – I honestly can’t say enough about the astounding quality in “Companion” from the core of its idea to the jaw-dropping execution by each player involved. I’m old enough to still think of things in terms of a side-A and a side-B having grown up mainly during the cassette era…and like, all I can think about is turning this album over and experiencing “Dead Man’s Road,” “It Ain’t Nothin New,” and “Companion” one after the other after the other for the first time; a strong second half that raises the stakes like you’ll find on this record makes me miss those good ol’ days. Having said that I’ll shameless take what I can get, however I can get it – when it comes to music, that’s always been the case for me. So what if a playlist has ten tunes on it? I can still divide whatever number a record has by two and imagine where the divide would have been. All I’m saying is that the first listening through side-B of this self-titled record would be such a damn glorious experience that it’s more than worth it to think about pressing a limited run of cassettes out there for the collectors! I’m off on a tangent again here…back to “Companion” – I mentioned this is the best song on the record right? Usually I’m not so bold in just claiming one above all others, but I don’t think it can be helped in this particular scenario; all the material on the Forest City & Friends record is super-strong, but the main hooks and atmosphere on “Companion” are as mesmerizing and special as you could ever hope to find in the music on your playlist. There’s such magnificent depths in the emotion and melody of “Companion” that it should leave ya speechless…this is one of those cuts where I’ll stop the world around me to listen to every single second; it’s inventive, it’s honest, heartfelt, and powerfully real – I absolutely love this song. It might not be ‘the single’ style of sound that tracks like “Forest City,” “Phone Booth,” or “It Ain’t Nothin New” possess – but this is that exact song on a record that you’ll never forget & keeps you coming back to the full album time & time again. You’ll seek out “Companion” when you need it most, & you’ll know exactly when that is; this song connects to a whole palette of your emotions & buries itself deep in your memory, just waiting to be heard again whenever your soul needs to be comforted through music.
“Rainmaker” is an excellent example of that Minus The Bear-meets-Toad The Wet Sprocket type-sound that Forest City & Friends do so well. Adventurous as Minus, as powerfully melodic as Toad…it really makes for memorable music as far as my ears are concerned. “Rainmaker” reaches for a bit more creatively, and yields pretty damn impressive & artistic results – solid saxophone moments, incredible guitar highlights riffin’ it up over the course of the final minute or so…there’s so much vibrant sound throughout this record and this cut exemplifies its 3D nature as it expands into its expressive ending. Admire the craft, admire the skill, admire the results folks, because this crew of talent is at the top of their game and creating songs that have no problem whatsoever retaining your interest, because they’re downright interesting to listen to, you feel me? “Rainmaker” is another really strong cut in the overall lineup and its combination of artistic ideas & stunning musicianship make for a beautifully versatile listen. Pete’s falsetto moments work out great…in some respects, you can hear they’re a challenge to pull off, but that’s largely due to wanting to retain an organic & earnest sound to what he’s singing as opposed to fully round every corner, which after everything we’ve heard from the Forest City & Friends lead-singer so far, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt he could certainly do. Instead, he makes a much bolder and courageous choice, by singing the main chorus/hooks of “Rainmaker” with a humble performance that puts character proudly on display in the pursuit of art. Thumbs-up from me.
You could even include a comparison to something like Queens Of The Stone Age by the end of this record, with the verses of “21 Cent Whisper” in particular echoing the stylistically slick sound of the band at their coolest. Not the overly-aggressive Queens…you fans know the cuts I’m talking about; “21 Cent Whisper” contains that same degree of smoldering, slow-burning cool that slides right into your ears from their more rhythmic & melodic songs. It’s a suit that Forest City & Friends wear extremely well…”21 Cent Whisper” feels as conclusive as an ending should; I dig that when it’s finished, you know that the album is officially over and the whole experience feels massively satisfying & fully complete. I also think you’ll find some of the most engaging lyrics here at the end as well; don’t get me wrong, the rule is the same for this entire record, the quality & depth of these ideas from the music to the microphone really can’t be beat…I just think this last cut exemplifies that storytelling-aspect I referenced earlier on when it comes to how the lyricism adds to this final cut…you hang on to every word as Pete sings, and the band keeps the music surrounding him fully compelling at all times. There’s a heavy layer of dust in the atmosphere & air as “21 Cent Whisper” becomes the album’s last breath, but it carries with it the true satisfaction of an experience that’s revealed the effort in the attention to detail and the desire to create music that moves people so much more than the average Pop or Rock song ever could. Like I was tellin’ ya from the get-go…this is the year of the hybrid…Forest City & Friends have proven that already to be true with this highly impressive self-titled record of theirs – I’ll remember this album.
They’ve also got an early release of their new record goin’ on at the Bull Moose this Friday on the 20th – make sure to find out more about Forest City & Friends at their official page: http://www.forestcityandfriends.com
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