Forest Robots – After Geography

 Forest Robots – After Geography

Forest Robots – After Geography – Album Review

Forest Robots…aka, as reliable of a source of fantastic Ambient music as one could ever hope to find.

I’ve had the privilege of being able to spend a bit more time with this record than I get to with most.  Call it the added benefit of being a massive fan, I received the upcoming Forest Robots record somewhere around the beginning of June and I’ve been lucky enough to keep spinning it ever since in between doing whatever else it is I’m up to here at sleepingbagstudios.  Personally, I could listen to Forest Robots all day, every day, and I’d never even remotely get bored or likely be anything less than absolutely fascinated…but if I’m being truthful, I tend to save this record like the dessert after a meal.  After all the madness of my days have been completed since getting my hands on an early copy of After Geography, I’ve chosen to unwind and spend my late-night hours quite often listening to this album.

I don’t meditate…but I do allow for extended periods of time where my mind is free to wander while I’m listening to the right music.  Experiencing After Geography is what inner peace & harmony must truly be like I figure…it sure sounds like it to me.  I might not have a whole lot of personal experience in that department myself, but I certainly appreciate tranquility when I come across it, no matter how rare it is.  In fact, it might make the infrequency of those moments that much more special.  Or projects like Forest Robots for that matter…there is, quite simply, not nearly enough music like this in the world or ever could be as far as my ears are concerned.  We’re all so busy all the time.  It’s records as comforting as After Geography that have me wishing we all spent an hour a day with this album; the chilled out songs in the lineup of ten tunes that span this record provide the mental reprieve & reset so many of us need.

Like the recipe of a great chef…I honestly couldn’t tell ya exactly what’s in the sauce here or how everything gets made when it comes to Forest Robots and what we hear in each of these songs.  I’ve never been one to claim I’ve got that kind of ear though…I’m just a regular schmoe that enjoys a huge variety of music is all, and I happen to like passing on what I love to those of you out there paying attention.  For example – remember when Forest Robots made our top-ten list of the year in 2019 for the album Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky?  Of course you do – and if you don’t, you should, because that was real – it happened.  AND…it was entirely well deserved.  I mean obviously I would love it if each and every one of you had the time to read every article I write and hear every record I’m writing about, but I understand the reality – you probably don’t.  That being said, if you’re looking for an amazing new set of bands & artists to listen to, make sure to check in with us here in December each year for that list to come out…because I spend all 365 days around the clock considering what ends up on it, and I fully stand behind any nomination I’ve ever made as one of the best you’ll find in the scene.  So you bet, Forest Robots was on my list last year & rightly so – Fran Dominguez is a master at his craft; that’s the minstrel of ambient awesomeness at the heart of the music being made in this project, FYI.

I’m honestly amazed by After Geography and what Forest Robots has pulled off once again here in 2020.  This has been a minimalist’s audible dream project to begin with, but if you had told me that somehow Fran was going to achieve more with even less on this album, I don’t know if I would have believed you.  He’s always stuck to the bare essentials…the ingredients of an atmosphere required, and more often than not, not a single touch of anything more than exactly what you wanna hear, right where you wanna hear it happen.  “Everything in its right place,” to quote the great Sir Thomas of Yorke.  What I’m saying is that this wasn’t music that was at all overstuffed with anything excessive to start with – and to even think that somehow Forest Robots could dial it back further, and still make a massive impact…well…I mean…it kinda defies logic, wouldn’t you say?  Yet here we are, and that’s exactly what’s happened.

The journey begins with “A Detailed Cartography,” a brilliant opening cut that seems to blow ambient sound at you like the secrets of the universe are riding in on the wind, and if you tilted your head just right, you might be lucky enough to hear’em all.  Sounds crazy I know, but once you hear the music of Forest Robots, I guarantee you’ll understand…there’s a wisdom and a connection to a whole world of sound in this project that is always apparent.  Listen to moments like the finale at the 3:15 mark, where the direction will change and the wind dies down at the very end…the effect of that one transition alone is damn near worth the entire price of admission folks, it’ll send shivers down your spine as you listen, I promise ya.  It makes for an amazing final moment in what’s been a stunning adventure from beginning to end…the use of texture & tone reign supreme in the most subtle of ways on “A Detailed Cartography,” & literally every single sound you hear will have your ears captivated & seeking out more.  When it comes to the context of this record and the style it explores, “A Detailed Cartography” also plays a pivotal role in informing your ears as to what to expect throughout After Geography – and if they like what they hear on this first cut, believe me when I say you’ll be there right til the very end.  Listen to the all-out remarkable shifts around the 2:25-ish mark and how much pure melody each tone seems to possess individually…amazing.  In my heart of hearts, I know how much Ambient music tends to fly right by the majority of the masses…but I’m tellin’ ya…if you sit, listen, and give a song like “A Detailed Cartography” your undivided attention, you’ll be blown away, and by the most subtle of musical means.

There’s a solid chance a cut like “Of Birds Migrating In The Distance” will stand a bit more of a chance with a wider audience, given that it has a livelier melody that thrives more prevalently on the surface of this second tune on After Geography.  Again, I have no clue what’s actually happening as far as what Fran is using to create such exquisite magic in our speakers, but will ya listen to how spectacular these muted tones come out sounding?  I love the curious way that this song seems to develop…like the main melody line is fully confident, but the rest all kinda creeps in & shows up with an idea that gets released into the mix slowly…not unsurely, but almost like testing out different ingredients in the background before they’re a full-on part of the recipe.  “Of Birds Migrating In The Distance” inarguably has more tangible melody for folks to latch onto…I’m probably more personally partial to “A Detailed Cartography” myself, but I’m certainly not complaining about this second cut either – both of these tunes stack up to a highly engaging start to this record that’s full of Ambient uniqueness in full bloom.

Songs like “Karst Wildlife Surveying” take me back to when I was listening to a ton of different artists in the Ambient genre that were choosing to go against the grain and discover minimalism, like when I found Colleen’s album Everyone Alive Wants Answers and pushed play for the very first time.  There was something so…almost disconnected in a way, but so dialed-in in others.  Disconnected in the sense that it was like Colleen was making music without considering a single other soul on the planet, but as a result of that method, whatever it was, every song you’d hear on that album felt like it was connected to a whole other part of the world…and it takes you on a true journey to another place if you just close your eyes and listen.  I felt very much the same towards “Karst Wildlife Surveying,” and truthfully, towards quite a bit of what Forest Robots creates in that same respect…I’ve always believed that you don’t go into making Ambient music as a venture to certain fame & fortune, you do it because you truly love it…because there’s something special in this style of music that does not exist in any other.  It goes beyond music…it’s tough to explain…the best I can say is that, the sound of what you’ll hear in a project like Forest Robots is the very link between our own hearts & minds and the world we share around us.  That element of nature in the Ambient style of Forest Robots has always been an impeccable part of the magic and why it connects to us…because deep down in our souls, we know these songs.  Make no mistake, they’re not covers, they’re not old songs we know – but they’re sounds that feel like they’re a genuine part of us…and I’d wager a bet that’s because somewhere out there in the ether, they truly are.  Each moment of “Karst Wildlife Surveying” is so thoughtfully well-placed into an entire tapestry that beautifully unfolds at a magnificently compelling & captivating pace; it sparkles quaintly, humbly, and flows as naturally as a stream does down the river.  Subtle as ever, but unmistakably gorgeous as well.

Bringing in the ice-like winds to blow throughout the airy beginning of “Awash In Granite Geometry,” listen to how the background sounds morph to become to core of this tune.  I suppose it’ll depend on how each & every one of us listen to a song like this, but for myself personally, I stayed locked onto the swirling sound in the thick of the atmosphere on “Awash In Granite Geometry” and let the twinkling keys dance around my head without interruption.  It was like I was hearing them perfectly, yet still 100% mesmerized by the center of this song…almost like I was able to listen to it as two completely different tunes at the same time, layered on top of each other.  Fundamentally, even though that’s not the case and these two parts are together for a reason – because they complement each other spot-on – it’s still like you can hear two completely unique ideas at work and the whole set of mechanics behind the scenes that make a track like this so incredible to listen to.  The clarity is outstanding…so much of this record has had that ‘you could hear a pin drop’ feeling along with it, because you’ll stick right with every second of these songs and become enveloped by the sensory experiences & thought-provoking feelings they evoke…sometimes I’m sitting so still and listening so intensely I end up wondering when the last breath I actually took was, you know what I mean?  You get lost in these songs in all the right ways.

Space and pace are such undervalued and important aspects of making music, and it’s projects like Forest Robots and this record here that have you appreciating how effective these aspects are when they’re used efficiently & sincerely.  Like, would I expect everyone out there in the world to ‘get’ a song like “Over The Drainage Divide?”  No!  But the same could be said of this album, this genre, or music altogether – that’s just not how it works; Ambient music has a much more niche audience for sure, but what’s also true is that it’s a style of sound that fits into more places than most other kinds ever will.  Whether it’s featured in a soundtrack, on in the background floating out of someone’s window in the summertime, or the main record you’ve loaded onto your playlist for a dedicated listen – what Forest Robots is creating has the potential to exist & thrive in so many mediums and different realms out there.  Here’s what I can promise ya though…if you sit and listen…not just in the background, but listening with the pure intention of listening and nothing but – you’ll find you get so much more out of an experience like After Geography and songs like “Over The Drainage Divide.”  Find that space for yourself, treat your ears to a surreal sound & beautiful atmosphere…leave those worries & troubles behind…and just be.  “Over The Drainage Divide” will keep you transfixed as you listen through sheer uniqueness & curiosity.

“Subtly Widening Bergschrunds” is much more than a mere reminder of what them darn bergschrunds tend to do on their own time, you know, widening & such…and it’s…hmm…pretty apparent that I should probably look up what a bergschrund even is.  Just a moment…

…alright…I’ve returned slightly wiser than when I left – thank-you Fran!  In the world according to Wiki, a bergschrund is “a crevasse that forms where moving glacier-ice separates from the stagnant ice or firn above.”  I can dig that…and I think when you listen up close to “Subtly Widening Bergschrunds” you’ll get it too…Fran has placed these really clever echoes in the music that bounce into the mix every so often, and they’re extraordinary to listen to when thinking about the context of the inspiration.  They could be the sound of the twisting of a bridge, the cracking of ice, or a chunk of it falling and bouncing off the canyon walls below…or just plain ol’ how it sounds when a bergschrund subtly widens; like I’ve alluded to, I can’t fully confirm that, I’m new to the world of bergschrunds and the sounds they make.  What I can tell ya is this…quite often in these instrumental tunes we listen to from any artist or band out there, the title of a song can be one of the main clues you’ll receive when trying to discern what an artist is going for conceptually in music without singing a single word – and I fully stand behind the fact that when people listen to “Subtly Widening Bergschrunds” and feel the wind blowing through their speakers and the gentle sounds colliding, expanding, contracting, and constantly in subtle flux – you’ll feel like you’re sitting there on a mountain out there somewhere, just listening to the majesty of the world around you.  Forest Robots is full proof that Ambient music can be as gripping & intense as any other.

I feel similarly towards “Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor” somewhat as I did towards “Of Birds Migrating In The Distance” earlier on in the set – I think these would be considered to be two of the more accessible songs on After Geography overall when it comes to the masses out there.  Make no mistake, for lovers of the Ambient genre, this record is an absolute MUST HAVE on your playlists this year & your ears will readily absorb every single second – but it also helps to have the occasional tune like “Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor” show up on occasion with a bit more bounce in its step.  I’d love to take off my music-reviewer cap for a moment somehow and hear how other people would listen to this song…to me, it’s 100% fascinating…like a full reveal of the relationship that exists between complexity & simplicity, delivered in a spectacularly serene & colorful dose.  Simple in the sense that you can easily get to the heart of the melody here, complex in its use of texture, tone, and the organic composition it possesses, but also wonderfully accessible because of the sound selection.  Everything about “Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor” shines with subtle beauty & melodic charm – the serenity comes in through the seemingly effortless flow throughout the distance of this track from start to finish…something about this tune sounds like everything came naturally to Fran here.  Not that anything else sounds forced mind you, I’m just saying, a track like “Glacial Architecture Of The Mountain Corridor” feels like everything fell right into place for Forest Robots – it moves slightly quicker than anything you’d probably expect with a glacial-reference in the title, but that plays to its advantage.

We’ve all heard it said a million times…that whole bit about how if a band or artist can ‘just get that one person out there to listen’ than it’s all worthwhile.  While I do believe that’s quite often true, and I certainly hope that Fran knows I’m as sincere of a fan as a person could be – truthfully, I’d be much happier knowing I was one of the millions of people out there that should be listening to Forest Robots.  Listen to the insightful composition and sounds of “Imagining August 1976, Here” for example; I hear a song like this and form an instant connection to the character & sincerity in the tones and textures to be discovered.  Ultimately, while I know I won’t be alone in that assessment or feeling strongly towards this particular song…but I also know just how many MORE of you out there that would likely dare to push play.  All I’m saying is if you’re missing out on Forest Robots, your whole collection is incomplete; if you’re one of those people that claims to listen to the best of the best in any genre, yet you do not have the Forest Robots, you need to go directly to jail – do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Jail.  There, I said it.  Alright now reading that back, it seems a little authoritarian for this music, a little extreme…so I’ll dial it back a bit here…if you’re not listening to Forest Robots, your simply doing your ears an unnecessary disservice and robbing yourself of some seriously beautiful sounds.  “Imagining August 1976, Here” is full of a combination of gorgeous & graceful tones, some truly remarkable avant-garde creativity, and the conviction it takes to go after the most subtle & small aspects of music and make the experience have a massive impact as a result.  It doesn’t happen through crashes or bangs or fireworks exploding in the music…it happens through sheer fascination, bold captivation, and hypnotically mesmerizing sound.

When it comes to the masses outside of the Ambient genre, it’d be pretty hard to really argue on behalf of one of these tunes over any other as to being the one cut to pull people in…but I’d say it’s probably not “Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn.”  That being said, vice-versa is also true; if you are a huge fan of the Ambient realm, then right on, you’ll love “Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn.”  Personally I have no objections…I do think it’s arguably one of, if not THE most minimalistic of the bunch in this set-list of songs, but I definitely believe if you like even a piece of this record you’re bound to love it all.  From beginning to end, if I’m being 100% truthful with ya, it’s rare to hear an album quite as cohesive as you’ll find After Geography really is.  Songs like “Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn” might get recognized by some on its own merit – others might simply hear it as an extension of what they’ve already been experiencing on this record…and quite frankly, both of those situations are okay.  I can hear that “Night Sky Over The Face Of A Nearby Tarn” has audibly less to latch onto and would understand if some listeners out there had a harder time sticking with this one or finding their way into it; that’s not the reality for yours truly listening right here, but I would get where they’d be coming from.  There’s no question that this isn’t the kind of song to beat you over the head with neon sound to get your attention…no Forest Robots tune really goes that route that I can think of.  Respect in this project is earned through those that really take the time to listen and absorb these incredible audio atmospheres.

Of which you WILL get the opportunity to do so, soon.  After Geography comes out officially on August 7th this year – so mark that date, because this is definitely a record you wanna have if you’re a lover of the finest of Ambient music.  Forest Robots end the experience with “All Across The High Plain After The Storm” to finish the album with a series of glorious sounds and a seriously refreshing-meets-uplifting vibe circling the atmosphere of this aura.  It’s like you’re out there in the wild, all on your own, watching the sun rise over the valley on a brand-new day…and you have the wherewithal to appreciate the true majesty of what you’re witnessing & understand how every tree, leaf, & stream are connected to us all.  Whereas many of the songs on this record will feel like they lock into the magic of one specific moment in time, “All Across The High Plain After The Storm” takes you on a more expansive & expressive journey from start to finish.  Just past its mid-point, you’ll hear the glow that’s been hiding itself in the background continue to rise up through the final minutes of the last song on After Geography as Fran and Forest Robots put a real spiritual and soulful spin into the album’s finale.  You feel like your mind has been cleansed, rested, and reset to tackle any obstacle that might come your way after listening to this album in-full…and you couldn’t possibly ask for more than that in a single listening experience if you ask me.  Another remarkable record in a catalog of tunes that is easily amongst the best in Ambient out there anywhere in the scene today, bar none.

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