July 21, 2003

The Forms "Icarus"

This review is for all of the guitar geeks out there. Iím starting to think that there should be a sub-genre of rock called ìdrop-D.î Critics can use this terms to label and pigeonhole bands with the same impunity with which they use terms like ìindieî and ìemo.î There have been so many bands out there that used drop-D tuning as their primary method of writing songs: Hum, Hurl, Aereogramme are the first three examples that come to my mind as I type this, but Iím sure you guitar players out there can name many more. While the three bands Iíve mentioned donít sound very much alike, they do share a similar compositional aesthetic. Drop-D tuning is the perfect tool for bands that want to sound simultaneously melancholy and hard, and alternate easily between crushing riffs and pretty arpeggios. Icarus, the debut EP by intentionally obscure (the liner notes donít give any information about the members) New York band the Forms, is the best illustration of this concept that Iíve heard in recent memory. Itís beautiful, it rocks, and it couldnít have existed without drop-D.

Anyone who has read my reviews of the latest Mclusky and Giddy Motors albums knows that I pay special attention to records that were ìrecordedî by Steve Albini. He does a sterling job on this EP. As usual, he makes the drumming sound as palpable as a series of a hard, quick blows to the head, but unlike on some of the other records heís worked on, he doesnít do it at the expense of the clarity of the vocals or bass lines. However, most of the credit for the success of the record has to go to the band itself. The singer effortlessly switches from a croon to a scream. He has a habit of inserting wrong notes into his melody lines on purpose, veering off-key yet maintaining perfect pitch. Sometimes he harmonizes with himself in extremely close and dissonant harmony. His singing reminds me of a child with a steady hand who still insists on coloring way outside the lines. Although heís particularly compelling, everyone in the band is excellent at his or her instrument. The various time signatures, frequent tempo changes, and dexterous guitar work (the dramatic, lightning-fast riff that opens the appropriately named ìClassicalî could definitely be played by a symphony orchestra) make the band sound as if it has many albumsí worth of playing experience.

The Forms definitely live up to their name by building and destroying the structures of their own songs with good humor. Theyíve indexed the seven actual songs on Icarus into ten tracks on the CD, but for some reason it isnít nearly as annoying as when Joan of Arc did it on The Gap. (Then again, that might be because the songs on Icarus are way better.) During the breakdown in the middle of ìInnizar,î one of the guitars starts noodling as if it doesnít know which note to play next. This randomness, however, only makes it sound much more powerful when the band returns to the songís introductory riff. The extremely long scream that ends ìSeagullî devolves into a random spoken monologue about a dream the singer had. As soon as the monologue starts gaining momentum, the guitars interrupt him to play the opening riff of the next track. On ìStravinsky,î a snippet of studio chatter is heard right before the drums usher in a gorgeous duet between guitar harmonics and grand piano. The Forms have a knack for making intentional conceits sound like accidents and vice versa.

If youíll excuse the bad pun, I wish to say that Icarus presents this band as not only fully formed (ka-ching), but capable of exceeding the greatness of the eighteen minutes of music contained therein. I hope that they stick to "drop-D," never auto-tune the singerís voice, and integrate more piano playing into their sound. I expect to be surprised, hypnotized, and utterly ROCKED by whatever the Forms decide to release in the future.

---Sean Padilla

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