Friday 3 December 2021

Forgonia - The Mountain (2021)

Country: Australia
Style: Post-Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Oct 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I'm having a blast with a host of post-rock albums because they're just good post-rock albums, but I'm also having a blast with them because they're all completely different. This one is different from the outset for its line-up of instruments, which is not just the usual guitars, bass and drums. There is also a cello, viola and violin in play, not just as texture but often playing lead, plus a horn section that does likewise. It makes for an intriguing mix.

That song is appropriately named Lights Out (And Away We Go) and it does lots of different things almost as a teaser for what the rest of the album will sound like. There are bits that mix riffs and beats, like we'd expect, with bits that shift the focus to the strings or horns. In the midsection, the piece turns into an overt Led Zeppelin homage. There's a part where a relatively traditional jazzy beat combines with a guitar that's laden with effects so that it sounds like electronica. And, later on, the horns introduce a sort of TV theme fanfare.

The most accurate foreshadowing to the rest of the album is the section that's all about emphasis as that comes back quickly in Brickyard 33. In these sections, everything's very rhythmic, as if this band isn't writing music at all but patterned prose that they're then translating into music and it uses a lot of punctuation. It's one reason why Philip Glass comes often to mind as a comparison. It would be interesting to map out what they're doing, if only I had the theory to be able to do that. I see it as turning it back into prose and wonder what it would say.

The other notable factor in Brickyard 33 is that it's an odd combo of free and not. The strings take the lead here for a while but they're not allowed to just run like lead instruments might. It's as if they're dancing in a cage, expressing themselves with passion but ultimately with constraints that restrict their motion. It might sound odd but that sort of controlled experimentation does foster imagination. If you're dancing but there are ropes tied to your limbs to prevent you getting wild, you have to get really imaginative to get your point across.

The best track sits at the heart of the album and it's the twelve minute title track, though it's also the middle of a three part suite called Bathurst, which I presume was named for the town in which Forgonia recorded this album, a few hours inland from their home in Sydney, New South Wales. It begins with a two minute interlude that evolves from what could be ominously crinkling paper to a bright and cheerful string arrangement. It feels like birds saluting the dawn, but something dark has shown up along with the light.

Well, that's The Mountain and the song is less about it and more about the observation of it. This mountain just sits there, like mountains do, like the forces of nature that they are, but the music looks at how it changes during the day, because our view of it does. Initially it's patient and built out of layered loops, as if by one musician on a street corner with an array of instruments. It gets to that punctuation phase but then calms massively for a couple of minutes. Has the fog rolled in? Is the light going? The mountain is still there but we don't see it the same way.

Eventually, it comes back into focus to end almost triumphantly, but with surprising feedback. It's a fascinating piece and, after it, the third part was only ever going to be a four minute coda, done in synth textures after the sun goes down again and the mountain becomes only notable because of how it affects the storm raging about it.

I should give a shoutout for the other long piece, here the fourteen and a half minute closer called The Green Hell, because it's a surprisingly calm one for this album until it ramps up eight minutes in, the beat increasing like a pulse rate. It's one of those post-rock instrumentals that feels like it ought to be nothing but pleasant background music but somehow maintains our attention all the way through, ever interesting even if we don't really know why. Is active ambience a thing?

My other favourite here, though, is Night on the Mulsanne, the most regimented piece anywhere to be found on the album. It's another Philip Glass-style piece that's built out of rhythms that are not played on the drumkit. Given that half the tags on Forgonia's Bandcamp page relate to motor racing instead of music, I'd guess that the Mulsanne here is the Mulsanne Straight at the Le Mans 24 hour race, but it felt to me like a river. It's a pastoral scene and I took the strings for ripples and the horns for geese. Maybe they're really cars. Either way, this is my other highlight.

And so this is another already good post-rock album that's likely to grow on me even more. It may be Forgonia's second, a full eight years after a self-titled debut, but it's well worth checking out if you're a post-rock fan or, indeed, if you're into mid seventies Tangerine Dream and Glassworks.

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