Chris Forsyth - Solar Motel | Album Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret
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Chris Forsyth

Solar Motel

Fades into the background.

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Author: on November 6, 2013
1.0
Paradise of Bachelors
October 29, 2013

I am a changed man. No great enlightenment has been bestowed upon me. No murderous instincts have developed. It’s not a change that will drastically alter my existence, and in fact is a rather inconsequential shift. But basically, I have always been one of those people that simply did not believe in the concept of background music, there was no such thing. To cast a piece of music, a piece of consciously-created art, to the peripheries of one’s consciousness was, to me at least, a sacrilegious prospect. Though I have never and will never sport a beret; it was being a pretentious student of music that led me stumbling clumsily toward one of the most influential (and controversial) academic theories of John Cage: all random noise can be categorised into various sounds, and all sound (yes, all sound) is music. Cage stressed that the roar of a plane passing overhead, a kettle boiling, to the blood running through your veins: this is all music. With “4’33”, Cage showed us that even an audience uncomfortably shifting about while they wait for music to start is still music. Ever an endless optimist, the composer maintained to his death that all sound is worth your undivided attention. Particularly in reference to sounds created by chance, the way the dynamics change, the textures build and the reverb dissipates can fulfil new, confrontational emotions that carefully constructed sound cannot create.

Continuing on from this, Classic FM’s constant recommendation that we as listeners relax or drift off to sleep to Chopin’s “Nocturnes” or some other great work, has always frustrated me, as it takes Cage’s joyous optimism toward all things sonic and smashes it into the dirt. Sure, as a realist you can dismiss the noise of a passing car; but to practically ignore pieces of music that have been created solely to be enjoyed and celebrated? To push them into the background? That’s just too much to bear. At all levels, be they classic works of art or mere chance music, I was positive there was no such thing as background music, and I defended this notion vehemently. That was until I listened to Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel. I owe all the people I’ve shouted at an apology: sorry, everyone.

The fact of the matter is Solar Motel had me drifting off on more than a handful of occasions. It allowed me breathing space to daydream, to contemplate life, to figure out what I would have for dinner, all set to a raucous forty-one minutes of looping guitars and crashing cymbals. Yet despite not experiencing great clarity or suddenly developing second sight, I found myself doing anything to steer clear of being slapped back into sense. I wanted to stay away, lost in my thoughts for as long as possible, and unfortunately it wasn’t because I was particularly enjoying my aimless pontificating, but because Solar Motel is the single most inept excuse for a musical release I have laid ears upon in many years. In an ever-increasingly competitive market, where ever-impressive feats of home recording are becoming a norm, an album of such condescending complacency receiving any notable level of publicity beggars belief.

Lazy, unforgivably tedious and shamelessly clumsy, this so-called guitar suite sets off on the wrong foot almost immediately by straddling a divide much too large for any artist to span single-handedly, and certainly not over the course of one album. By starting out with overlapping guitars building at an excruciating rate, its minimalist roots are quickly established; but once we reach a point where the eighth, ninth or tenth guitar layer is added, we end at a point of critical mass. There’s no structure to the cacophony, no silence to punctuate the twanging strings, just a headache of half-baked ideas all battering your ears at once, and it just keeps going incessantly. Now there are drums! Now there are keyboards! We started safe on the minimalist cliff top, but suddenly find ourselves in a position where Forsyth is prising our fingers from the ledge one-by-one until we fall screaming into discordant oblivion. What Solar Motel‘s four parts have failed to note is that to overstretch from such sparse robotics to such ill-judged maximalism is a tactic that has the capacity to pay off at the hands of only the most skilled post-rockers, so why this album feels entitled to weigh in with its two cents on the matter is baffling. If it sounds like I’m being harsh, can I just remind readers that the entire album – all forty-one minutes of it – never leaves the chord of G major. No, not the key of G major, the actual chord — for forty-one minutes.

The post-rock elements of Forsyth’s experimental ambient/jazz/drone messes on previous albums have always had an element of patience about them. Take 2011’s Anniversary Day: though still clumsily arranged and executed, the builds are cute and considered; the drops well-timed, the emotions more raw and visceral. But here, Forsyth has inhibited himself into creating something devoid of any atmosphere by being incredibly heavy handed. The result of Solar Motel‘s impatience to get going is a blindingly obvious lack of any thought-through ideas, meaning every time yet another wandering instrument is flung carelessly into the Forsyth’s sonic garbage disposal, it gets chewed up and spat out without so much as a whimper. It becomes another obsolete component in this mercilessly bland noise. With shamelessly mistimed drum fills, futile keyboard stabs and guitar riffs dishonestly masquerading as having more ideas than an earthworm on life support, this album is in utter shambles. It is just pure musical carnage.

Solar Motel, whether it is to be classed as post-rock or minimalist, is a low point for either. You know that desperation when a fairly conventional indie band decides to end an album with a ten-minute, pseudo-ambient jam, so listeners will take them seriously? That’s what every inch of Solar Motel reeks of. It feels hopelessly out of its depth in even the shallowest stretches of water. This is the album that has taught me that sometimes it is acceptable to push music into the background. But the clincher is that it’s not because I want to relax or tune out; it’s because I would rather listen to anything else — be it Chopin or a jack-hammer on a construction site. Because, hey, at least they both contain the sound of people making an effort, Mr Forsyth. Here’s some John Cage-esque chance noise you could classify as music: the thunderous slap of real post-rock bands up and down the land collectively facepalming.

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