Forest Robots – Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning – Album Review
Even just scanning the names of the titles in the lineup of the new album by Forest Robots became such a vivid reminder of how much I love the uniqueness of this project and its purpose. Like, you’re telling me right off the drop, I get to experience a track called “The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Wildest Forests?” How’s that for an awesome start & a clever insight straight off the bat? Love it. So stoked to have this mysterious & melodic project back in the mix this year – I always love me some Forest Robots.
For those of you unfamiliar with the whole saga, lemme fill ya in real quick and then I’ll tell ya all about what you’ll find on Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, the brand-new album. Forest Robots was created by Fran Dominguez, for the intended purpose of one day leaving his own daughter an audible blueprint to discover the genuine beauty of the world and nature, through the sound of music. As I’m sure I must have mentioned back then & still believe to this very day…we all make music for some reason or another, but it’ll be rare that you find an artist or band like this with such extraordinary intentions that exist around it like this one has…Forest Robots is part journal, part love-letter, and an entirely endearing project based around revealing the wonder & splendor so many of us walk right by. As I listened in 2019 to the first impression I received one day through a single called “Inevitable,” is was immediately apparent that Fran was onto something incredibly special – and in that same very year, his album Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky went on to be proudly featured in our top-ten list for his remarkable efforts & authentically breathtaking soundscapes. We’ve not only maintained a steady listening schedule and kept close tabs on this project since then, but you’ll find Forest Robots all over these pages of ours in many ways; we’ve featured the music on the SBS Podcast as far back as 2019, and even more recently as part of our Proof Of Purchase sub-series in 2020, in addition to reviewing the record After Geography from last year as well. You can consider us here at SBS to be the genuine article – we’re real fans of Forest Robots and make no bones about that whatsoever, we’re upfront about it, and absolutely outright honored to continue to support Fran on his journey in music. And if you find yourself needing further proof, look no further than the very bottom of this article and you’ll see visible evidence of the fact that Forest Robots was included within the first month of our latest project in 2021.
The pensive, peaceful, and thought-provoking style of Forest Robots is back on display from moment one as you push play on “The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Wildest Forests” and the new album begins…you get that instant hit of atmospheric instrumentalism this project has been synonymous with right away. Personally, my experience with the ambient genre & related cousins to it have generally taught me one thing consistently through the longevity of just about any career band or artist out there, in that usually, the progression of time tends to have this style becoming less of itself & more involved as the years go on. I like that Forest Robots seems to not really follow that trend whatsoever – if anything, this project of Fran’s becomes more & more ambient, low-key, and subtle as time marches forward. The melody in his music continues to remain a strong presence as you listen to the songs on Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, but doled out in spacious atmospheres where the notes & tones will spread out into the air like wisps of smoke, or a memory you try to see quickly before it fades from the view of your mind. Essentially, you’ll find songs like “The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Wildest Forests” and the rest of the album to come, play in very spiritual ways. Fran will give you a glimpse, a hint, a steady path through a delicate melody to listen to, but it always becomes up to our own minds to choose whether or not to fill in the gaps with the imagery of our thoughts & where songs like this will take you through their sweet audible trance, or to simply let the serenity & peace surround you with the inherent warmth you’ll find in Forest Robots. Or do both – honestly, you can’t lose; sometimes I’ll listen and drift right into my own thoughts, sometimes I’m sitting there intently right up close and considering life & how it relates to the entire world around us – music like this is supposed to move you in some way, shape, or form, and any of those results would always be more than beneficial.
Texture is always a tool well-used in the Forest Robots method of creating sensory sound – and I loved how quickly you feel like you could reach out and touch a song like “Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height” so instantly. We used to have this like…what was it…it was a…I suppose you’d call it a turntable of sorts, but a digital one…used to have a pair of them actually in sleepingbagstudios back in the day before we moved locations – and when you’d spin a digital mp3 or wav file, it would start with faster momentum than when it ended – you following? The slower you’d turn it, the more spread out each iteration of whatever sound would come through…and at its slowest, you’d find tiny flecks of absolutely astounding moments that you’d never hear otherwise. As “Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height” began, it reminded me so much of that sound…I ain’t gonna lie, I could spend hours and hours just spinning ANY song at the slowest of speeds, just to hear something similar to this. I get though…I ain’t everyone. That’s far from all you’ll find on this second tune on Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning though – you’ll find all kinds of glowing warmth & comforting vibes come along with it…all intricately played at a compelling pace that leads you forward in the most gentle of manners. I love the way Fran’s able to get us to listen so intently to sound that is ultimately spread so much further apart than so much of what’s out there…there’s much more identity in the music of Forest Robots than you might even give’em credit for in a first impression, but believe me when I say, the more you dig into the catalog, the more you’ll recognize how the spiritual sound entirely ties it all together.
Calming, soothing, and serene, “All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First” makes stellar use of thick bass tones, and what sounds like it is likely a digital saxophone being played way, way off in the distance. Piano keys will often twinkle occasionally, assisting the quaint sparkle of this song’s sound along every so often, popping up at what seems like a random moment in time, yet perfectly welcome whenever they appear. Ultimately, much could be said about “All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First” as a whole in that regard…Forest Robots aren’t the project you’d be seeking out if you were looking for a simple line from point-A to point-B in a song or something to sing along with – it’s built of an entirely different mettle. While that can generally be the main issue & obstacle in crossing that threshold towards the mainstream out there, Fran knows just as well as I do that the loyal community of music-listeners out there that dig ambient music are genuinely unlike any other. As highly appreciative as fans can be – you’ll find ambient fans all over the globe these days; make no mistake y’all – there’s more than an audience for this type of music, we’re just not nearly as rowdy as the rest of’em out there. Their dedication however, is as fierce as the fiercest…supporting music like what you’ll find in Forest Robots is like a badge of honor…an admission that you’re able to hear the things unseen in this world, and appreciate beauty from an entirely different perspective than most, like a form of synesthesia. “All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First” is further confirmation that Forest Robots has the magic we’re looking for in this genre, pulling you in close to listen to music that is set with such a distant sound – like how a great story unfolds, Fran reveals the details at a curious pace that has us hanging onto to every second in anticipation of the final conclusion, chapter by chapter, song by song, as this plays on.
There it is again! Slowly sputtering and flickering like a flame in the wind, the candle of sound that “We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day” goes out completely at around forty-seconds in, creating a pause & separation that has you considering the title and how it all relates. Maybe that right there is the moment of death…or perhaps the acceptance of the fact that it could have been…and what follows could either be the ‘what comes next’ or the sheer appreciation that life indeed, goes on. Like I said from the get-go, Forest Robots always leaves you with a fantastic amount of space for your own imagination to drift along with, consider, and relate to your own life. The facts are, what Forest Robot does, brings out what’s inside of YOU – think of music like “We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day” as a sort of litmus test for the soul – where does it take YOU in your mind when you listen? Are you in fact, “grateful every new day” like you should be? Heck, for that matter, have you only died once? You might consider many things as you listen, and of course our beliefs are as varied as the space in our universe…it’s only natural that the evocative sound of Forest Robots will send you in about a million & one directions in your mind as you listen, but at the very core, you’ll always find a meditative peace you can easily reach as well. As in, if you choose to turn your brain off for just a moment, and let the highway of your mind calm down the traffic for a minute or two…you’ll find you can listen to songs like “We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day” and authentically stop time from moving, like you’ve stepped into another dimension altogether, where beauty, light, and love reign supreme.
Make no mistake folks, I’ll always recognize & readily acknowledge that Forest Robots appeals to a more niche percentage of listeners out there…but for you audiophiles out there like Fran & myself, there’s always so much to be experienced, discovered, and downright revered in the music this dude creates. Waxing philosophically in the titles throughout this whole record, you come to “In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom” would be akin to something like the sage wisdom of “love the journey, not just the destination” – and in either scenario, the answer should hopefully be a resounding YES from all of us when it comes to how we view our experience here on this floating rock we all share together. Because let’s face the facts here y’all…none of us know what we’re doing…we’re all functioning and doing our daily tasks, whatever those might be – but it’s impossible to know what it all really stacks up to at the end, wouldn’t you say? Therefore…not to get too logical in the spiritual realm & all, but it just makes plain sense that you SHOULD love the journey more than the destination, if only for the fact that you’re gonna get a whole lot more time to spend with one, than the other. Titles are great clues in the world of instrumental music…maybe I would have been thinking about all this anyway had I not even seen it, just from the thoughtfully spread out peaceful sound of Forest Robots and how it always has you reflecting internally while the sound twinkles, sparkles, and dances through your speakers around you. That’s always harder to say in retrospect – but what I can tell you definitively, was that I always came back to “In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom” as one of this album’s most crucial cuts.
Dripping sound through your speakers like the water off an icicle melting in the sun of the first signs of spring, “Even The Tallest Leaves Return To Their Roots” provides that consistent serenity & peace, while also sparking up just slightly with an orchestral tinge like roots popping up through the ground. I’m always impressed by the amount of patience & professionalism that Fran makes his music with – this man is hardly in any rush…and that’s truly because “In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom” – pay attention folks! He’s more than willing to roam and explore vast amounts of sonic terrain, and just happily exist. We’re all so conditioned to verse/chorus/verse and being right onto the next part in a song, that it’s authentically refreshing to have a project like Forest Robots out there going in the complete opposite direction, like it’s welcoming you in to listen, chill out, and simply BE in a world filled with music that echoes from the ground to the sky above, where you can genuinely appreciate it. “Even The Tallest Leaves Return To Their Roots” is yet another stellar example of just how captivating & compelling the most subtle of sounds can be when played the right way with the truest of perspectives. With the warmth that flows into this tune for its final minute, you’ll notice the dripping of sound has now fully subsided…it’s like we’ve exited right into the next chapter to come, and into the midday sun.
Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning continues with “Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You” – another thought-provoking title that holds the mirror back up to ourselves to consider our reflection & what we see. I’ll admit, there’s a bit more of a wandering sound attached to this particular tune that is both more present & noticeable…but I’m always happy to roam around with Fran wherever his music will take us. Ultimately, it does feel as if “Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb” is always a little bit different from the rest of this set of songs with its more lively movements & bolder sounds – but I can’t imagine anyone that’s gotten this far in the record would have any objections to this either. Let’s be real here – if you like what you’ve heard in Forest Robots and this album from song one, you’ll have no problem at all following through this whole record and discovering what else you’ll find. Sometimes those destinations in sound feel more focused overall, sometimes they’re more spread-out and expressive like you’ll find on “Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You” – and both play an important role in the flow, design, and message in a record like this. Like Fran’s been tellin’ ya…”In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom” – and I’ve been trying to confirm he sure ain’t wrong about that…and hence, I more than enjoy roaming through this set of unique ideas, wherever they may lead us. There’s no question that “Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You” still has a cohesive place within the scope, sound, and confines of this record, but yeah…likely you will find that this particular track does still feel like it’s just a bit different from the rest as well. I suppose only Fran of Forest Robots would know why that might be…or maybe it’s just me.
The way he uses natural sounds in songs like “A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality” is fantastic. Every so often from behind the sparkle of music, you’ll hear birds chirpin’ and the atmosphere of the beauty from outside creep on inside of the mix, and it’s always an essential ingredient into so much of what Forest Robots creates. It speaks to us as listeners – we can clearly identify the hint of wind, or rushing water when you hear it…and in the context of music that is pretty much entirely based upon a true love of nature – that’s an amazing & complementary aspect that plays perfectly into the sound of Forest Robots, and you’ll find it takes the starring role of this particular tune. Fran’s got this one set up perfectly…seemingly restoring that sweet balance between nature & his music that had wandered a bit far on the previous tune, and leading us right back into the serenity & beauty of all that surrounds him. I love that he’s got a set of truly playful sounds within the mix here, almost like he’s brought us all right back to the cornerstones of our childhoods, looking at the world with that set of wondering eyes that have yet to see just how much splendor there is to be found. Forest Robots always has us taking stock of what’s important as we listen…in nature, in the world, and in our own lives…”A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality” gets to the heart of that combination in remarkable ways through the careful sound selection, including vibes that are guaranteed to move the mind, body, and soul with refreshing results.
You can call me absolutely crazy if ya wanna…I’ve likely been called worse at some point anyhow…and it might be because I’ve just so recently been reviewing the records made by best-selling inspirational author Mimi Novic lately over this past week or so…but that’s the collaboration I wanna hear most right now! I think Fran and Mimi would get on incredibly well, I think much of their perspective is shared & aligned…and who knows – maybe, just maybe, dropping this hint right here to both of them will spark that up one day…stay tuned. Just remember you heard it here first folks – they’d be a fantastic fit together. Anyhow! In the meantime, I’m still more than enjoying Forest Robots as it is, and always will. “Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass” is another exceptional title sir! I love how Fran constantly has me thinking about all kinds of things from nature to philosophy, life here on earth & beyond the stars – there’s always something deep to be found within the layers of serenity & peace in the music he makes, and this song is another incredible example of how he can move us through the most subtle of means, or shift things just slightly with enough drama & curious sound to catch our attention in a whole different way. For the vast majority of its length, “Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass” is as relatively calm in its demeanor as the rest of what you’ll find on this album, but you will find that every so often through the use of string sounds, it’ll spark up like you’d see the head of a deer peering back at you through the woods all of a sudden, after not even knowing it was there. Forest Robots itself is the real mirror…it’s music that genuinely reflects the beauty of our world.
To finish Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, you’ll find “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” at the very end. A strong conclusion, you can feel the weight of this last experience instantly find a way into the atmosphere as the song begins…the invitational warmth so often found in the music of Forest Robots takes a complete backseat for a moment here, and has us cautiously listening as a result. It’s almost as if you can feel the swirl of menace & mischief in the air…and all-around, there’s no question about the fact that this last track will bring a whole different vibe to the last moments of this new record…that normal beauty we experience is still here, but more twisted into a mysterious design, offering us one last transition in the sound of the record before it’s all over. I’d be interested in what moved Fran in this direction…and just as interested in how he perceives the sound & fit of this song on the new record over the course of time. As it stands, it fits – but almost oddly more on the fringe than even “Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You” did earlier on, even though I’d fully stand behind that actually having a much closer sound to the record than this final track seems to have. But this could be, and likely is, all projection & perception…so much of listening to the music of Forest Robots is…when we listen, we internalize by default, everything we listen to…and apply that to our own lives, or how we see the world. Maybe hearing more of a darker vibe consume the sound of “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” actually says more about me than it does about Fran in writing everything I have here…you’ll have to judge that for yourselves. Regardless of all that – “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” is still more than welcome to my ears – like I’ve been saying from the drop here, where Fran’s music goes, I’m always willing to follow. As a fan of Forest Robots, I’m stoked about what I hear – and as a fan of the ambient genre overall, I’m stoked even more.
Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning is officially available online April 2nd.
Find out more about Forest Robots by visiting the official pages below!
Official Website: https://www.forestrobots.com
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