Forth Wanderers - Forth Wanderers - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Forth Wanderers - Forth Wanderers

by Kyle Kersey Rating:7 Release Date:2018-04-27
Forth Wanderers - Forth Wanderers
Forth Wanderers - Forth Wanderers

There’s a myth that’s been passing around music circles for the past few years, seemingly joined at the hip with the “death of guitar music” fallacy that seems to rear its ugly head on every new-age neckbeard subreddit. The myth goes like this: music labels have become obsolete in the internet age, relics of a past where Giorgio Armani suited executives decided what the next “big thing” would be.

And sure, the democratization of the internet has essentially leveled the playing field for emerging artists to compete, and with the advent of streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, artists are paid more for their live performances than their album sales. In essence, the music business model has been flipped on its head. Whereas before it was release an album to support your tour, now it’s tour to support your album release.

Yet with that being said, labels still serve an important purpose for people like me, the daily music consumer. After all, with the influx of so much new and interesting music comes the inevitable stream of vapid, unessential crap. Certain music labels (especially the independent ones) act as vetting mechanism; a stamp of approval that something is worth your ever-precious time. For me personally, the two labels I find myself following most fanatically are Matador Records (home of brilliant and inventive rock acts like Algiers, Car Seat Headrest and Queens of the Stone Age) and Sub Pop. The latter of the two is responsible for the introduction of generation-defining acts like Nirvana and Fleet Foxes, as well as idiosyncratic voices like Iron & Wine and Father John Misty.

Now, they’re bringing me the new self-titled LP from New Jersey’s Forth Wanderers. Spread out between three colleges across the northeast seaboard, it’s a testament to sheer creative will (or perhaps youthful abandon) that Forth Wanderers exists at all. Two years ago, coming off their debut LP Tough Love, this group of high school friends released the EP Slop, the title track of which received a lot of buzz in music circles. So much so that the group was touted by New Zealand popstar Lorde and subsequently signed by Sub Pop: high praise for a group collectively under the legal drinking age at the time of Slop’s release. To be fair, it’s a pretty great, sluggish indie rock tune, one that showcased the bands talent for writing short, relaxed tunes of post-adolescence.

“I am the one you think of when you’re with her, and what do you have?” Ava Trilling’s mournful, almost operatic voice opens on “Nevermine”. In an instant she answers her own question: “nothing on me”.  Make no mistake about it, this is music by college students, for college students, and “Nevermine”, the album’s opening cut about a failed personal relationship, is the perfect example of this. Trilling’s voice is quite clearly the centerpiece of their sound, the element of which all other songwriting parts are meant to accompany. To be fair, it’s a lovely voice, one that’s emotive and almost operatic, even if she does sometimes lazily string the syllables out intooneunclearphrase. It’s so notable that they’ve decided to have her layer on vocal harmonies. Meanwhile, The instrumentation relies on a simple yet effective setup; meandering lead guitar layered over clean power chords and lazy bass.

Forth Wanderers mostly acts an expansion upon Slop; a ten track, thirty minute bite of suburban alt-rock that that benefits from deeper, fuller production and increased studio experience. It’s less explorative and more polished, where the elements that worked on Slop have been buffed to a pristine shine. Despite the group’s New Jersey roots, the album feels more west-coast than east coast, possibly a combination of Seattle influence and laid back instrumental performances. Think Crazy for You-era Best Coast only rawer and less spacious. Come to think of it, “Ages Ago” would fit right in on that album.

However, with this approach to songwriting comes a slight downside. Musically, their track-to-track sound is a bit too homogenous, where the songs lack unique traits and characteristics to distinguish from one another. I get it: its accessible alt-rock built around relatable themes and youthful charm, not free-jazz (though their drummer is currently studying jazz so never say never). Even so, the album sort of just blends together. There are a few standouts, like the infectiously energetic lead single “Not for Me” and mesmerizing “Saunter”, but I’ve found that a lot of the album’s pleasantries haven’t really stuck with me.

I’ll summarize this effect thusly: last year, I went to go see Father John Misty in Phoenix. I even wrote up a concert review of it for this very website (*shameless plug* which you can go read if you haven’t yet *shameless plug*). The opening act was this group called Weyes Blood, a singer on the Mexican Summer label that I was completely unfamiliar with going into the concert (for reference, she’s appeared with the likes of Perfume Genius, Mild High Club, and Ariel Pink). Given the activity at her merch table, I wasn’t alone in this. Her band played a good, tight set, but the gap in songwriting between her group and that of Father John Misty was undeniably apparent. Every song was pleasurable to listen to – there wasn’t a bad tune all night – but if put on the spot, I couldn’t tell you the name of a single song, or even hum a single melody from her act.

This is kind of how I feel about Forth Wanderers. Despite the Lorde endorsement, there’s been surprisingly little fanfare surrounding the release of this album, which in a way is a shame because it’s much better than a lot of the more popular stuff being put out there right now.  It’s a tight, charming alt-rock album that showcases a band brimming with chemistry playing to their strengths. There's not a single song on here I really dislike. Yet at the same time, it’s almost too fundamental and safe, and I think the finished product suffers from a lack of risks. Going forward, I think these guys have a ton of potential, especially as they’ve shown to be a precocious act given their age, but it’ll be interesting to see if they build upon the solid groundwork this album lays out and explore new sonic avenues, or if they simply repeat the same tropes ad nauseam. Let’s hope for the former.

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