April 01, 2004

Forest Giants "In Sequence"

Forest Giants is the new power trio of Bristol, England indie-pop denizen Tim Rippington, who used to be in the Beatnik Filmstars. For the better part of the 1990s, the Filmstars wrote and recorded about a billion songs that fused the arch, propulsive rhythms of the Fall with the concise hooks of Guided by Voices, adding pithy bits of social critique and more than enough irritating noise to satisfy your average Merzbow fan. Unfortunately, they broke up shortly after their best album, 1998’s appropriately named Boss Disque, apparently frustrated with recording album after album while on the dole and seemingly having John Peel (who invited them to record FIVE Peel sessions) as their only vocal fan. Although everything after their first album Maharishi is worth buying, I urge you to AT LEAST snatch up the Boss Disque, Phase 3, and Astronaut House albums and catch up on some of the most criminally underrated music of the last decade. Of course, after invoking Rippington’s pedigree in such a manner, there really isn’t much else left to do other than tell you how well In Sequence, the Forest Giants’ debut, holds up against his previous work. Fortunately, it does so quite well.

The Beatnik Filmstars album that In Sequence most resembles is their second, Laid Back and English. On that album, the band transcended the garden-variety shoegaze of their first album but hadn’t fully assimilated their Fall and GBV influences yet. The songs on Laid Back and English were more than content to let a single riff linger for three or four minutes, and oceans of distorted, reverberating guitars often did more talking than the actual lyrics did. On future Filmstars albums, the guitars were tinny and trebly, and the songs were lucky to make it past the 90-minute mark. The songs on Laid Back and English were far from boring, but they weren’t as short or sharp as the music that would immediately succeed it. In Sequence has that same sort of long-lined minimalism, but it has a little extra something that Tim’s previous band lacked: sweetness.

Opening track “Secrets” only needs five lines and a couple of guitars to make its point. The full lyrics are: “You were a teacher; now you’re a rock star. I was your pupil; now I’m a failure. I wish I could know your secrets.” It’s the kind of brief love letter that I could picture Tim writing to Guided by Voices’ Bob Pollard (whom the Beatnik Filmstars once dedicated a song to). The first 90 seconds of “Route a115” consist of little more than a rhythm section, a taped conversation, and an assortment of grinding noises. Once the first verse kicks in, the song turns into Tim’s laconic goodbye to his social circle. “Jello” is an optimistic ballad about recovering from physical and emotional sickness that shifts into a minor-key dirge during its coda. “Do You Know What I’ve Been Through?” chronicles a boring night spent alone with an exactitude that would bore the listener were it not for the random noises that undercut the song, like a chain gang working at the bottom of a well. The Ballboy-aping “Baby” rides a wonderful fretless bass line (kudos to bassist Ruth Cochran for her unceasingly solid playing on this album) as Tim chronicles the plight of a brokenhearted woman, fluidly switching from detached spoken word to sympathetic crooning.

Despite the often sad subject matter, the lyrics on In Sequence never descend to the cynicism and bitterness that the Beatnik Filmstars made their stock-in-trade. “Don’t go away for too long,” Tim sings on album closer “Holiday Song.” “I’m gonna miss that smiling face when you are gone.” Even though the vocals and guitars are buried under a cake of grimy noise, the sweet sentiment is still there, and it’s one that would have never made it onto Astronaut House. Even when the music gets a bit too repetitive (as on the album’s only clunker, “F.W.L.”), there’s a sense of nostalgic wistfulness that keeps the Forest Giants in line with all of the great indie-pop bands of the last two decades, from the Smiths to the Smittens. The only major complaint I have against In Sequence is that, at nine songs in 27 minutes, it’s WAY too short, especially for someone who hasn’t released any music in six years. Tim, take your own advice and come back soon!

---Sean Padilla

Label Website: http://www.invisiblehands.co.uk

No comments: