Album Reviews

Forest Fire – Survival

(Broken Sound) UK release date: 20 July 2009

Forest Fire come from Brooklyn. But they’re far removed from the skinny jeans, scene-humping, stiff-breeze-will-snap-it indie so oft regurgitated from the trendier-than-thou borough.

Forest Fire are a four-piece to fall in love with, from the sunkissed gloopyness of opener I Make Windows to the tuneful discord and sweet chaos of closer Slow Motion.

Their sound is like a stripped back Sonic Youth. Acoustic guitars find their counterpoint with spider-legged electric guitar melodies and waves of feedback. The rhythmic backdrop is always simple and plodding.

Just like Black Lips, Forest Fire sound out of tune, amateur and completely unashamed. They share the same “don’t-give-a-fuck” mindset.

But they’re less riotous, and more poignant. Their musical credentials are unimportant. The songs are beautifully misguided, and there’s a charm in their lack of grace. And yeah, the vocals are out of tune, but Bob Dylan couldn’t sing either. Sometimes it’s not about how good at guitar solos you are, but communicating a mood or emotion, a state of mind or atmosphere. And this is where Forest Fire are articulate.

Survival is also a very direct album and is wrapped up in a shade over 25 minutes. The songs break in, snatch the valuables, and scarper. It feels as if a conscious decision has been made not to outstay their welcome and there’s something endearing about such economy of songwriting.

On to the songs. The album opens strongly with I Make Windows, a lo-fi churning acoustic song which tugs the heartstrings with its weepy melodies. Never have the words “I make windows” sounded so arrestingly heartfelt.

Other highlights include Fortune Teller, where the sunkissed harmonies of Mark Thresher and Natalie Stormann could melt a heart of stone, and Echoes Coming with its delicate, dancing guitar melodies. The semi-hymnal, reverb-drenched backing vocals of Steer Me are also beautiful.

But Survival is too one-dimensional to be brilliant, and unerringly walks the line between plying a constant theme and sounding repetitive. There’s also too much filler, too much dead weight. Sunshine City, Through My Gloves and Promise all get lost in a Velvet Underground bunker that drags the album down.

But the highlights eclipse the weaker moments, and Forest Fire are more than deserved of the increased attention that has been flying their way. It’s just that Survival should have been a brilliant EP rather than an OK album.

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