Leafcutter John - The Forest and the Sea

"Contained within are wonderful tunes, disconcerting sounds and shrieks, ambient music, musique concrete, and an atmosphere all of its own."


Leafcutter John – The Forest and the Sea (Staubgold)


Leafcutter John's previous album (The Housebound Spirit) was a pretty intense affair: at times ambient but at others violently and electronically discordant. On his new album, the vaguely conceptual The Forest and the Sea, laptopery is mixed with more traditional instruments such as cello and harmonium. The result is impressive indeed.


Opener Let it Begin is the strongest track on the album. It is here that the mixture of the elements really coalesces and creates a track that doesn't feel like an acoustic track with unnecessary electronica or vice versa. Often it seems that using acoustic elements, or electronic ones, only serves to embellish a song in much the same way that choirs are often used to flesh out otherwise banal tunes. The electro / acoustic result usually resembles oil and water – the different layers never actually merging at all. Let it Begin genuinely combines the field recordings, the percussion and the laptop to create a wonderfully emotive song that carries you away rather than leaves you looking at its construction. It's one of those songs that has real power and I have to admit to playing and replaying it rather than moving on to the rest of the album.


The second track, Maria in the Forest, features field recordings of horses (at least that is what I thought they were – it turns out that the recordings are probably a stream flowing over pebbles) along with an accordion and all manner of percussive instruments. Whereas the opener featured voice along with an insistent cello, Maria in the Forest is more open and is concerned with creating an image in the listener's mind. The cello is discordant and it is possible to believe that, as the electronic interventions become ever harsher, we are listening to Maria losing herself in the woods. The vocals return on Dream I, whilst Dream II is much closer to Leafcutter John's first album as disturbing sounds are pitched together along with sharp sounding synths. Elsewhere, In The Morning is backed by apache style drumming, piano and treated laptop effects, whilst Go Back almost resembles a medieval plaint.


I stated that the album is vaguely conceptual – there is, I think, a 'story' to the album (relating to two people lost in a forest) but it is not easy to discern. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that this album really needs to be listened to as a whole. It brilliantly manages to evoke images and feelings and does so without always needing to relate them through words. Contained within are wonderful tunes, disconcerting sounds and shrieks, ambient music, musique concrete, and an atmosphere all of its own.



Words: Chris Dawson.