Forest Robots – Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky – Album Review
This is indeed rare. This is seriously special.
I definitely had the feeling that Fran Dominguez was creating something incredible in his laboratory over there in Los Angeles after I checked out a song in the summer called “Inevitable” back in July. Not only did the song sound incredible to begin with, but it was clear from the list of influences I could see on his pages & social-media that he was more than in-tune with a ton of artists I’ve grown up with in my headphones that have never left me since. I mentioned much of the music we had in common from Aphex Twin to Boards Of Canada…even tossed in a few references of my own like The Field and Lyua Dust…but after listening to the new Forest Robots album called Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, there was another comparison that came to mind that didn’t end up making either of our lists.
That’s The Album Leaf. Way back in my day, I witnessed a life-changing record that was called One Day I’ll Be On Time; and while I’m sure I’ve referenced a few artists or bands over the years in comparison to the atmospheric Electro project overall, I’ve never once heard a record that has ever reminded me so much of the spine-tingling feeling that came with hearing One Day I’ll Be On Time. It’s a record that defies convention in the most beautifully subtle and extraordinary ways…forever to be considered among the best albums that can truly take you somewhere else when you close your eyes to listen. And you got it – the entire reason I’m bringing it up is because this new album by Forest Robots is the closest thing I’ve experienced since that first magical moment listening to The Album Leaf long ago. You can feel every ounce of the brilliantly expressive and sensory experience that Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky truly is. If for some reason you can’t…well…I’d guarantee you’re missing a part of yourself on the inside of ya. Songs like these communicate one-on-one with your soul and speak to your heart in ways almost all other music never will. That’s not at all hyperbole – that’s straight-up facts.
To say I’m impressed would be an understatement – this is a musical masterpiece and the kind of album that only comes along so often within one lifetime. The kind of album that will never leave my playlist – I will always have time for what I hear on Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, forever and ever.
As to why I feel like this album reminds me so much of One Day I’ll Be On Time by The Album Leaf, it isn’t at all because the songs are similar, it’s more to do with the feeling you get when you listen. I was already a fan of the Ambient/Electro genres long before The Album Leaf came along – but it was The Album Leaf that taught me there was so much more to be found within that style of music still. It taught me that not only could there be moving forms of art & ideas in music that stand out, but that they didn’t have to be oddities or tracks you’d listen to when you were ‘in the mood’ for them – One Day I’ll Be On Time flexed a mastery of atmosphere, expression, and compelling hooks that was built for all seasons. And I’ve felt exactly the same way all week as I’ve been listening to Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky; these aren’t just great ideas – they’re presented in ways that authentically keep you interested.
From the gust of wind that “Just Before Nightfall In The Forest” rides in on, to the subtle vinyl-like scratches that come in to join the atmosphere over the course of the first forty-five seconds or so into Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, if I’m being honest, I was pretty much already hooked. Hearing the colorful burst of synthetic & digital melodies come in right after was all the confirmation my ears needed – this first track is LOADED with the pure magic of music. Sparkling & shining with that hint of exploration and adventurism, “Just Before Nightfall In The Forest” is a true beauty to behold, and an immaculate gateway into a full album. So strong, that it genuinely makes you wish every album could somehow start off this powerfully…but so blissfully unique that it reminds you most albums never will. No doubt that it’s the start of something special and the kind of opening you always wish to discover; “Just Before Nightfall In The Forest” immediately sets a massively high standard that the rest of the record goes on to live up to, which in itself, is quite an extraordinary achievement. Each of the sparkling sounds in the atmosphere of “Just Before Nightfall In The Forest” hang like diamonds in the night sky, and the insatiably enticing mix between the ambient ideas and melodically-inclined beats & music quickly reveal what a master’s grip Forest Robots have on the sound design from the lefts to the rights.
LISTEN to the way a song like “Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon” moves will ya? Amazing! Fran Dominguez should be recognized as a true master of the atmospheric arts if you ask me; I know it seems like I’m heaping praise sentence-after-sentence on the guy as I write this review, but trust me when I say that, when you hear this album for yourself, everything I’m saying is completely justified. If anything, no matter what I write, no matter how positive this all may seem – I still can’t do the full beauty to be found here the justice it deserves; music like this goes so far beyond words. In my opinion, that’s likely why Fran’s brilliantly left these songs without a single word and all-instrumental – when the music you create speaks as strongly as what you’ll find on this record, you don’t need vocals at all. The pulse, charm, and charismatic movements of a song like “Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon” is both breathtakingly gorgeous and arguably even danceable at the same time. Each time this song came on in rotation, I either sat here 100% still and listened in fascination, or found myself actually moving & flowing with the music like the art of his creation took over the control of my body, unforced. This song rides in on a breath of wind as well as it begins…and somehow…SOMEHOW…Forest Robots come up with an even more accessible and inviting sound in the melody of this second cut. I might personally be a bit more partial to “Just Before Nightfall In The Forest” myself, but I certainly have no qualms with this quality tune at all; it’s a very close second-place in the first two songs on Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky for me, but a song I can also recognize has a broader appeal for the masses. Regardless, one way or the other, “Everything Under The Light Of The Full Moon” certainly confirms the professional quality from production to performance, and supplies your ears with absolutely exceptional sound at all times. Really well composed…incredible sound selection…fantastic melody…it’s all there.
There are several short tunes of less than ninety seconds on this record, the first of which is “It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath The Old Lake.” The more playful of the bunch in terms of the way the melody will dance towards you, with just the right hint of curiosity to come along with the overall vibe. Excellent use of the ambient sound in the mix…and although it is one of the record’s shorter tunes, it’s one you’ll still notice. You won’t find any throwaway material on Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky, or any filler tunes, no matter how short they may seem, or if they seem to serve as an interlude of sorts – songs like “It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath The Old Lake” are still fully compelling to listen to and highly enjoyable. In terms of the flow of the album overall, this cut offers a moment of mental reprieve to relax & absorb & reflect on the awesomeness just experienced in the first two tracks, before heading right into what’s arguably one of the best songs on the record to follow with “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm.”
Because I think there’s a very solid chance that many people will identify this next cut as one of their ultimate favorites from this album. The deep bass tones of “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm” and its mist of mysterious sound definitely leads to another massively spine-tingling experience…like, I literally get goosebumps listening to this song and the hairs on my arms stand up on end. Again, to be clear – this is NOT hyperbole – this is what I’m authentically experiencing when I’m listening to Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky. The use of space, pace, tone, and melody on “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm” is jaw-dropping – the kind of song that locks in your attention quickly, and retains it completely through magnificent composition and incredible sound. Ask yourself when you listen to it – what would you change? There’s not a single solitary second in a song like this that’s even a hair out of place, and every element that Forest Robots add to “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm” serves the moment in compelling ways that move its instrumental story along. LISTEN to the attention to detail…the crystal clarity of the sound…the intricate way each of the elements in the atmosphere are placed and layered together to form this composition…what Forest Robots are doing here is award-worthy, full-stop. The lightest synth tones fueling the layer of melody on the surface in contrast with the richness of the low-end and acid-jazzy beat of the electro-percussion…I mean, c’mon people – this is as top-shelf as it gets – “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm” is without question, a huge highlight.
While most of these gentle Electro tunes will draw on Fran’s inspiration from the nature surrounding him and what we can visually see or experience with our own eyes, he’ll push right out into space on “Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum” as well. I’ll say this – it’s a solid tune…there’s no doubt about that ultimately…though it might take an additional spin or two to fully appreciate this one in comparison to some of the others on Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky. A lot of that is due to the fact that it probably has one of the hardest spots on the album to fill, coming right after the awesomeness of “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainstorm” – but it does hold its own with its departure into a space-like atmosphere and the noticeable differences it has from the rest of the material on the record. The best way I can put it, is that it’s only by comparison to the strength of the ideas and music that you’ll find on Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky that it stands less of a chance of standing-out to ya – on any other record out there, this is an A-side – here on this album, it’s still a great tune, but perhaps not quite at that captivating level of a “Just Before Nightfall In The Forest” or “In The Late Autumn Afternoon Rainforest.” MAYBE. To be truthful, every time the most major shift in sound occurs just past the three-minute mark of “Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum,” I’m pretty much convinced this track is just as good as the rest all over again. I’ve gone back & forth on this one a lil’ bit, but I still believe it’s a quality cut that’s definitely cohesive with the rest of the record and stocked full of fantasy in the sound from beginning to end that’s bound to appeal to a ton of ears out there. Who knows – maybe I’m alone in these thoughts…this could very well be the number-one track for people out there for many good reasons – “Deep In The Milky Way Spectrum” definitely has its own vibe of an audio-voyage goin’ on.
Of all the shorter tunes on the record that are in the minute-plus category in length, “The Last Of The Melting Snow” was a moment I could never get enough of. Thankfully, I’ve spun this album so many times over this past week or so that I’ve managed to at least do my part to try – but truly, it’s a small fraction of this record that I’d have easily taken another five-minutes of. When you hear the synths creep into the atmosphere around the twenty-second mark, you can truly feel the uniqueness shine through…it’s an odd pairing in some ways, and a perfect match in others. You could potentially argue that each layer is kinda on its own separate path of sorts, but hearing them merge together so cleverly when they do…is a serious treat for the ears. “The Last Of The Melting Snow” flexes a whole lot of innovation and instrumental ingenuity within a very short time-span…I think you gotta give the man some extra credit for having the foresight to keep these powerful moments included on the album.
The warmth and glow that Forest Robots create on songs like “Times When I Know You Watch The Sky II” is brilliant; all encompassing, you can feel this music surround you and hold you tight like a close friend, guiding you from moment to moment. Cleverly using low bass tones and sparkling notes to adorn the melody, the self-reflective state that a song like this can put you into can’t be denied; we lose ourselves in songs like this, set blissfully adrift into our thoughts and we become one with the atmosphere Forest Robots provide. Overall, it might shift closer to the thought-provoking nature of a project like Boards Of Canada on a song like this, as opposed to The Album Leaf being the prevalent comparison to the majority of this record, but that’s more than okay with me…I love both nearly equally. When it comes to tracks like “Times When I Know You Watch The Sky II,” you can feel the emotional strength build through the subtlety in the movement in music; it’s the kind of track that each listener will internalize and hear in their own special way. I think we’d all agree that it’s definitely one of the more delicate melodies sprinkled on the surface, and all-around captivating track on this record – for as slow as it moves, it keeps our attention affixed on every ticking second – this is a song you can truly feel.
Bringing up the energy, pulse, vibe, and beat on “The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain” was also a fantastic move. Fran keeps it pretty low-key with the subtle moves of “Times When I Know You Watch The Sky II” right beforehand, so the shift into a more tangible beat on “The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain” ends up standing out to our ears and snaps us right back to our full attention. Not that Forest Robots didn’t already have that…perhaps it’s better to say that this song brings us back out of the trance we’ve been induced with, sparked by the lively energy and beat within this tune. Not only does it give you a tremendous dose of vibrant melody & sound, but it also ends with a smart use of atmospheric ambience and drenches us with rainfall as the song concludes. Hypnotic, melodic, and massively catchy as well, “The Clouds That First Gather At The Mountain” becomes highly engaging with the extra spark it presents us with, while also making time for breakdowns & build-ups of all kinds along the way. In essence, it changes and fluctuates nearly as much as the actual weather does – and it’s the cleverness you’ll find in a composition like this that reveals the stunning range of the creativity in Forest Robots’ capabilities; from the light to the dark & everything in between, a song like this has you covered.
“Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon” draws on that warm, atmospherically-inclined glow that Forest Robots seems to do so well once again. I love that you can get these tiny clues from the song-titles – I also dig how specific they can be in what they reference. Whereas most would have probably titled a song like this more simply, Fran gets specific when it comes to not just the overall imagery, but the feelings that the music provides. As in, you’ll hear a few parts of “Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon” up close, but for the most part, it’s the audible distance you can truly appreciate here. “Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon” delivers in sound, exactly what the title itself promises and implies – it’s like you’re looking out over fields and valleys, taking-in the splendor and beauty of the world around you and the glow of the sun, far, far away in the distance beyond where you can immediately go to. And so, you’re kind of frozen in place, left with almost no choice other than to stay where you are and appreciate the moment without disturbing the peacefulness it provides or trying to capture it by any other means. For a digital experience with music heavily based in Electro/Ambient vibes throughout the record, it’s both surprising & outstanding to hear the flow of the album and its songs come out with such an organic and natural sound. “Faint Sunlight In The Far Horizon” has just as many meditative properties as it does entertaining ones – Forest Robots do a spectacular job of creating atmospheres & music that move you & invade your mind in the most wonderful ways…the main melody of this song is remarkably beautiful.
“Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light” displays one of the more involved ideas and complex set of sounds combined, yet right from moment one, still shows just how accessible Forest Robot can make its music translate to our ears. Twinkling, sparkling, and shining bright – “Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light” brings in a solid dose of lo-fi rhythm & groove to play along with the sonic melodies that soar along the surface. Once again revealing just how well Fran is capable of fusing the light & dark as one, “Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light” is shrouded in a mysterious sound, but equally loaded with a low-key danceable vibe at its core as well. Sprinkle in the bouncier synth sounds he’s using on this song and that signature staple of the warm glow in the atmosphere that Forest Robots has done so well throughout this record, and you’ll find the mix of audible ingredients that go on to form such a noteworthy composition & all-out interesting tune. It’s bendable, it’s mysterious, it’s got another brilliant selection of sounds that’ll stand-out to listening ears…like The Album Leaf, it’s Electro/Ambient – and it’s anything but ignorable. To me, there’s no question…it’s not what people would consider to be background music – these are the kind of songs that should keep you AWAKE at night, listening to every second & sweet morsel of sound this album has to offer ya. It’s fine if you feel relaxed – that’s by design…but if you’re falling asleep to something like this, you’re seriously missing out and need a soul realignment – songs like “Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light” really highlight the finesse in Forest Robots’ composition, and show us that the courage to follow through on your wildest ideas and dreams can lead to exciting new breakthroughs in how we experience music altogether. On paper, you might look at an idea like “Of Rivers And Rivers Of Light” and think Fran had lost his mind for a moment – but when you hear how it takes shape, you can’t help but recognize the genius right there in the results; it’s extremely well thought-out from start to finish.
What a ride! I can’t even begin to express just how much I love this record and what Forest Robots have accomplished here on Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky – this is one seriously incredible album, created by an artist that clearly has his head & heart invested into every second we hear. It’ll set you down as gently as it began with the final track “Follow The Fog And The Rain” to end the set on a short, less-than ninety-second long quaint final song…and if anything, it immediately provokes you to repeat the entire experience all over again. Which I’ve done, many, many times, happily – and I’ll do it again.
Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky is officially released this November on the 1st – it’s available for pre-order right now on the Forest Robots page at Bandcamp here: https://forestrobots.bandcamp.com/album/times-when-i-know-youll-watch-the-sky
Rest assured that your year is not a complete one without this record, that much I can tell you for sure.
Find out more about Forest Robots at the official homepage here: https://www.forestrobots.com
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