Monday, December 21, 2020

Trees Speak: “Shadow Forms” (2020) CD Review

In early spring this year, when the pandemic was beginning to be taken seriously by many people (though not, of course, by the current administration), Trees Speak released an excellent experimental psychedelic album titled Ohms. Now, as we near the end of this disastrous year, and the pandemic is more dangerous than ever, Trees Speak has delivered another intriguing album, in which the group seems to create its own reality and then invites us to explore it. While the world outside is unsafe and half the country has gone completely mad, the world presented in these tracks can be frightening as well at times. This is no oasis in a perilous desert, but rather an exciting and sometimes dark place with its own intelligence, its own protocols, its own hazards, its own promises, and, yes, its own beauty.

The album’s opening track, “Large Array,” begins by establishing a strange, windswept landscape, a dawn over some foreign world. And as this weird day then begins, an electronic pulse takes over, holding steady, as a message is being sent out, one that is repeated. There is something hopeful here, in the act itself, and perhaps in the message, nothing threatening. And after a while this track has a strangely soothing effect, which took me by surprise. This track fades out at the end. Unlike the previous album, in which the tracks largely ran from one straight into the next, the tracks here can stand on their own. “Large Array” is followed by “Tear Kisser,” a seriously cool number that in some ways feels like an electronic version of a score to a groovy spy film from the 1960s. There is an element of intrigue, something of the unknown, but also something rather suave about its presentation. And if the tracks of this album were to be attached to films, “Those Who Know” at its opening sounds like it belongs in one of those straight-to-video late 1980s horror or science fiction films. And I do not mean that in any sort of disparaging way. I like those films. There is an intense vibe here, something strong and unrelenting at its core, something inescapable.

“Transforming” eases us into its world, which is soon then surrounding us, enveloping us. And though there is a hint of melancholy about it, there is also beauty here. Listening to it, we find ourselves feeling a mysterious and ethereal sort of optimism, as we look off to the distance and wonder just what will emerge from the horizon. That’s followed by “Automat,” one that features an ominous presence, a slow pounding that seems like it will take over whatever space it wishes, a sentient though inhuman force, something primal, yet artificial, and so frightening. Then “False Ego” introduces an electronic voice communicating to us through rhythm and machinery. Yet there is an almost dreamlike quality about this, like it has put us into a sleep-like state in order to make the communication easier, and is hoping we’ll remember as we wake, as we emerge into whatever the real world might be. But as the track goes on, the waking and dreaming states seem to have merged, and the electronic voice holds power in both. There seems to be a sort of faux spiritual element to its message.

“Communication” begins with what sounds like radio transmissions, and then, in contrast to that, there is some rather pretty work on guitar. It feels like two worlds acting simultaneously on us, on our thoughts, perhaps an interior world, a calming, soothing force, and the external sounds of those transmissions. Interestingly, the guitar fades into the background for a moment, and then when it returns, it creates a different theme, this time something gentle, like a memory. As the transmissions take focus, there is static, but sounding more like a record player than from communication devices. And is that “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” in the background as this track fades out? Then at the beginning of “Crystal System,” an eerie landscape is created. But when the drums come in, interestingly there is a stronger human element, a more grounded, solid experience. And soon there is the sense of a community, though one that is sedate, slowed by exterior means, and we feel like we are moving through a heavy haze.

“Agonize Signal” is unsettling from the start, as we are dropped into an unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous place, and we hear the call of some large denizen of the land, causing us to pause. This is a place where we have no allies and must fend for ourselves. But maybe the biggest danger is inside our own minds, though the sounds here are haunting and odd and almost aggressive. That’s followed by “Magick Knives,” which takes us down a dark path as well, a dangerous alley, where we are sized up by all its inhabitants and allowed to pass, not because we pose a threat but just the opposite. And what is waiting for us at the end? There is something exciting, even seductive in the darkness that draws us forward. The album concludes with its title track, “Shadow Forms.” In this one too, something is attempting to communicate with us through electronic sounds, beckoning us. Though eerie, it seems these are incorporeal creatures, and so perhaps pose no real danger. But soon it feels that we, in fact, are the shadow forms, and they have more substance, at least in the realm they’ve pulled us into. And there is something we must do here, some task to be completed, if we are ever to return.

CD Track List

  1. Large Array
  2. Tear Kisser
  3. Those Who Know
  4. Transforming
  5. Automat
  6. False Ego
  7. Communication
  8. Crystal System
  9. Agonize Signal
  10. Magick Knives
  11. Shadow Forms

Shadow Forms was released on October 30, 2020 on Soul Jazz Records (though it seems the U.S. release date was November 27th), and is available on both CD and vinyl.

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