Forest Fire – Staring at the X

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Since the release of their album, Survival, it seems everyone has gotten behind New York’s Forest Fire, though they haven’t quite broken into the top tier.  Staring at the X is supposed to be the record that gets them there, propelling them into our speakers for repeated spins.  For all intents and purposes, it’s a good record, just not quite sure it’s that record.

“Born Into” begins the record with a bit of a trickle, as Mark Thresher takes to the vocals, barely speaking them as atmospheric blips jump in and out.  But, then the song takes flight, going further into the noise spectrum, as Natalie Stormann joins in backing vocals.  It’s fairly noisy, in comparison to the rest of the record, but it just doesn’t go anywhere before the track ends. However, this is a complete contradiction to “Future Shadows,” the following track on Staring at the X. There’s a bit of a quiver in Thresher’s vocals, sort of like our old friend Devandra.  Ringing guitars eventually flesh out the track, fusing with the melody Mark brings to the table.  It’s definitely a stand out.

One thing that seems to hold Forest Fire back on this release is a lack of a true musical identity.  “The News” has this great feeling of folky-stomper fused with machine/guitar tampering that definitely provides a uniqueness you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.  Even the sax solo fits perfectly, but then the band goes somewhere completely off the map.  “They Pray Execution Style” follows with a haunting number, one fueled by a sense of impending musical doom.  Natalie Stormann takes the lead here, and while her voice does well in this realm, the song itself doesn’t really have a place in the whole of the record, which ends up being a problem–on the whole, it’s skippable.

As you move along into Staring at the X, there are some fairly decent songs, such as “Mtns are Mtns,” a number that surely will appeal to those who appreciate decent slide guitar, piano and sprawling guitars.  It’s short enough to be pleasant, but not long enough to really establish itself as a winner.  Similarly, the album’s title track, “Staring at the X,” approaches more of a singer/songwriter approach than any of the other tracks, relying mostly on Thresher and lightly strummed guitars.  On any other record, you’d love this track, but it comes off here as a rather mundane tune.

Hardly a song on here could clearly be stated as disposable, so that’s a good thing I reckon.  However, having spent the last few days listening to Forest Fire, the whole recording doesn’t seem that remarkable to me.  Songs seems out of place when looking at Staring at the X as a whole, and the album suffers because of this inconsistency.  I can where we’d all enjoy some tracks as piecemeal collections, but united, it falls short of the lofty goals I think we all had in mind for the band. Better luck next time I suppose.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Future-Shadows.mp3]

Download: Forest Fire – Future Shadows [MP3]

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