Ever since Forest Fire started out, they seem to have existed largely outside the taste of hype makers, which is in a way both a shame and a blessing, pending on how you view things. In one way, it’s a shame since they are releasing consistent and fascinating music, changing and mixing up their sound with every subsequent release, and should’ve been rewarded with the attention of a wider audience. But at the same time, their hype-dodging could well be the reason why they stayed interesting and experimental, rejecting the “next big thing” attitude that’s plaguing the net and the music industry in general. Their two previous albums wasn’t a particularly easy listen, complex in shapes and forms and sonically scattered all across the place that contained everything from chant-y campfire thrums to bass driven space-disco. But the slow burning nature of the songs gradually unfolded into expansive soundscapes that pretty much served as the groundwork for a conceivable future triumph. Well the future is here, and on their third album, Screens, they turned yet another corner, and while I don’t think it was intended as such, they nevertheless landed themselves in the smack middle of the psychedelic zeitgeist of today.
Screens is for the first time in Forest Fire’s career recorded in a proper studio with an outside producer, making it their sonically most vivid and wholesome effort. If you then consider that the ten songs on this record is largely their most impressive and creative songwriting, then it shouldn’t be too hard to comprehend why Screens is indisputably their most focused and fully realized album thus far. It’s hard to precisely position the music Forest Fire creates; it bares the same wide-eyed enthusiasm as Ariel Pink and it’s possible to find references from most decades; but in all simplicity let’s just pretend that it is psychedelic pop, with some ambiguous similarities with the playfulness of Candy Claws and possibly even Youth Lagoon. There is even a touch of MGMT when at their most accessible, as on the previously featured “Waiting In The Night”. The track is the perfect album opener, presenting the listener to the new world they’ve created. It’s the most accessible track on the album and arguably also their career highpoint. However, most of the tracks that follow don’t fail in comparison; they just leave a different mark.
Sonically, Screens is a cohesive record, although they do at times fall outside of their immediately rewarding psych-pop by plunging their heads into krautrock, as on the jangly eleven minute highlight “Annie”, or even more intensely on the short murky “Fixation” – yet another highpoint. There are also hints of a more elusive electronic sound as on the minimalistic instrumentals of “Cold Kind”, an obvious synth heavy track that is the closest Forest Fire ever gotten to Suicide. But nearer the opening and ending of things, the atmosphere is considerably more mellow and bright, with “Alone With the Wires” being yet another track leaving a lasting mark. The album ends with the waltz-y tempo of “Never Far”, an absolute gorgeous closer, reminiscent of 70’s era space-jazz, suggestive of a slow paced Daft Punk track that gradually builds towards a sonically destructive finish.
After a couple of fascinating but uneven records, they have presented a record that is considerably more accessible and solid than hitherto. It’s not without its minor faults; as the songwriting on “The Great Wall” and “Yellow Roses” falls a bit short compared to some of the stronger offerings, but it’s nonetheless a beautiful mixture of acoustics and synthesizers turned to its head. Compared to their previous two albums, they certainly pushed the envelope on Screens and created a wondrous record that cries for attention. I’m not convinced that Screens will suddenly transform Forest Fire into a much talked about band, but it will certainly attract a group of new followers, who might’ve shied away from them beforehand.