New York Cityâs Forest Fire, led by vocalist/songwriter Mark Thresher, return this fall with Screens. With their third full-length, Forest Fire - now the quartet of Thresher, Natalie Stormann, Galen Bremer, and Robert Pounding - have found it.
âItâ has been hinted at in previous releases - e.g. the howling languor of âSlow Motionâ, from the bandâs debut Survival (one of Rough Trade Shops' top 10 albums of 2009), or vitreous mid-tempo dejection ballad âThe Newsâ from 2011âs FatCat-issued Staring at the X (âYou wonât get far,â Thresher sang, âwith that look in your eyesâ) - but Screens is pure lightning.
After some lineup adjustments that left the band leaner and more centred, Forest Fire partnered with engineer Jonathan Schenke (Parquet Courts, Dirty Beaches) - the first time theyâd worked with an outside engineer in a proper studio - to uncoil sonic possibilities theyâd before only touched on, and to enable their new songs to breathe and stretch out.
That stretching out is quite literal in the case of album centrepiece âAnnie,â an eleven-minute track that is wide but not sprawling, buoyed by motorik lope and ornate synths, grounded by vocal spits and hisses. The song exemplifies the atmosphere of a record that the band acknowledges owes a debt to the late â70s output of not only Kraftwerk but Yoko Ono, Joy Division, Laurie Anderson, and their ilk; Sandy Skoglundâs iconic 1977 photograph Pink Sink is the cover.
From its darker, sparser, sonic landscapes, obsession with analog instrumentation, and movement-focused, heavily metaphorical lyrics, Screens finds Forest Fire hewing to this mood. But for all the recordâs gratitude to the past, its aesthetic is just as much forward-looking, able to embrace the sunrise hooks of anthemic album opener âWaiting in the Nightâ and the Suicide-spooky synth-drone of âCold Kindâ as easily as âAlone with the Wiresââs jangly stride and Leonard Cohen-frosted vocal delivery.
Stormann explains, âWe choose the title Screens because of the prevalence of screens in our everyday life (literal ones like television screens, computer screens, phone screens, and metaphorical ones that distort our view of reality) and because art/music is a screen between the artist and the audience.â As a metaphor, itâs both inward and external - Forest Fire cloaks raw human roughness in blankets of synth and drone - and speaks to the same retro-futuristic dystopianism that haunted the musicians they looked to on Screens, that haunts us now more sharply than ever.