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Artist: Forest

Album: Forest

Label: Radioactive

Review date: Jun. 23, 2005

Another folk skeleton extracted from a shallow grave. By the time Forest recorded their self-titled debut in 1969 – at Abbey Road, no less – a British band could glean sufficient lysergic properties from Top of the Pops; never having to touch the stuff themselves, the screen doors were open for second-order psychedelia, the music of contact highs, an aesthetic brand that eschewed the high-minded exploration of the relationship between the music and the chemically altered psyche. The Rolling Stones even took the pill, masquerading as pixies and natives for On Her Satanic Majesty’s Service, then graciously trading their Technicolor robes and sitars back for the trusty needle and slide guitar.

The three members of Forest were no monks. If anything, their upbeat rhythms and jangly strings affirm John Peel’s description of a “merry group of minstrels and pranksters.” “Do You Want Some Smoke” is a come-on if there ever was one, earnest enough to be on a billboard, sung with glee, restrained only by waltzing couples: mandolin and harmonium in arms, sufficiently lackadaisical vocal harmonies rising above flute melodies ancient enough to be played by Pan himself.

Peel, London’s preeminent guru, was Forest’s primary supporter. He even let the boys crash in his cottage outside the city and drove them to gigs before they signed with EMI’s Harvest imprint, also the home to Pink Floyd, as well as a host of other underground folk bands (for) now relegated to obscurity. Unlike Tyrannosaurus Rex, Forest never broke, couldn’t make the transition to prog, and fell apart in 1973, having released only one more record.

It is possible to imagine Forest as a sort of bizzaro-world boy band, with John Peel as the country’s hottest A&R man, praising the boys – two of them brothers, the other named Dez – in press releases reading like emotively recounted acid dreams. Granted, the Zombies best fit the accidental psychedelic hero mold – representative of an era without consciously plumbing its depths, unless “summer” can be representative of that era. But Forest wore the suit and wore it well, a band of its time. Vaguely metaphysical concerns prance around melodies that owe more to the Incredible String Band than their traditionalist forebears. Lithe instrumentation and whimsical paganism, the elementary sort of belief, make the record at once blithe and inspired.

Better bands seem less comfortable with their era and its predominant forms – Love is exemplary. But it’s the caricature that makes Forest work. Their music is perfectly formed, the ecstatic chants perfectly harmonized, the whole thing is exactly as you would imagine it to be, discomfitingly so.

By Alexander Provan

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