Meandering. That’ s the first thing that comes to mind with this album. But in a good way. Forest Fire shows in Staring at the X how “the sound of New York bands” (whatever that means) isn’t all tributes to 80’s kitsch or psychedelic experiments.
With only 8 tracks, Forest Fire manage to tackle all the genres they like. From the opening track, the majestic ‘Born into’, they grab you with a sound that has a lot of retro elements, but still sounds fresh enough to hide in the produce section at the (organic) supermarket and yell “ooga booga boogah!” at you when you pass near. What I mean: it’s a very good track to open the album.
Whereas the opening track was a rocker, ‘Future shadows’ is…not rock. It’s something else: acoustic enough to be folk, electric enough to be alternative and beat-heavy enough to be ambient. It’s neither and all at the same time. ‘The news’ does this kind of genre hopping: 50’s rock, shoegaze and a crazy acid jazz sax solo. It does sound like a disaster involving cats, kid’s lunchboxes and cans of paint, but it is good music. ‘Staring at the X’ sort of goes for the same vibe (but with less sax).
Not all the fluctuations between the musical spectrum work entirely. ‘They pray execution style’ is good, but does go on for too long with a minimal lyric content. Ambient-wise is excellent and the droning is superb. No, wait, I actually like it. It’s strange: when you don’t listen to the song, it sounds like something gone wrong; when you actually listen to it, you want to play it again.
The overdriven/fuzzy guitar in ‘Blank appeal’ is simply stunning. The chunky sounds clash with the slow pace of the song, where some playful guitar riffs jump here and there like squirrels nicking your food. It creeps everywhere but still is dreamy enough to avoid being scary. Again, guitar work is very nice. This is true also of ‘Mtns are mtns’, where both guitar and sax take the first prize.
Staring at the X is full of great ideas, noisy atmospheres and conspicuously cheeky tricks of the trade that work well because they have been removed of their context. Think of it as a musical equivalent of a collage you’d make in junior high school: a photo of Wesley Snipes in New Jack City, the sun drawn with crayons, some glamour model from a newspaper, scraps from political magazines. All plastered together and looking back at you, asking you to take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture.