Originality, who needs it? Not Chris Forsyth. The Philadelphia-based guitarist (for Pee Ess Eye and Phantom Limb & Bison) and micro-label proprietor (Evolving Ear) has made an album that is full of good ideas lifted from other people’s work, but he makes such good use of them that it’s easy not to care. The album adheres to a template established by Jim O’Rourke on Bad Timing, itself an album unfairly characterized as a Fahey rip (although it owed at least as much to Jack Nitzsche and Van Dyke Parks): write some catchy, bucolic themes; place them in the sort of sunny Americana settings that make you want to take your first cup of coffee with your feet propped on a porch railing in front of a couple acres of green rolling hills; tweak ’em until they turn a little bit weird. It worked for O’Rourke, it worked for William Tyler, and it works for Forsyth.
The LP leads off with a theme that’ll be familiar if you’ve heard the fourth volume of Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem. On that record, “Paranoid Cat” was a succinct amalgam of jaunty picking and heat haze drone; here, Forsyth stretches it to epic, sidelong dimensions. He overlays the original melody with Electric Prunes-style fuzz tones, then brings it down into a warm bath of organ buzz before clawing his way out with some help from Hans Chew’s uncharacteristically delicate piano and Mike Pride’s martial drums. Ghostly organ and a Richard Thompson-style electric lead circle each other, then build up to a hand-over-your-heart, Tom Verlaine-like climax with a touch of psychedelic brass.
The Jack Rose tribute that kicks off side two also trades in deception. Thoroughly electric and as dirty as mud flaps after an April drive on gravel roads, “New Pharmacist Boogie” dives down the same burrow of John Lee Hooker-informed bluesiness as Tetuzi Akiyama’s Don’t Forget To Boogie; it’s every bit as monomaniacal and just as much fun. “Front Street Drone” is stark and mostly solo, with Forsyth dropping pinches of another keening, Verlaine-like lead over a barely-there synthetic hum. The final track, “Anniversary Day,” is a little bit harder to reduce to influences, but not less pleasant to hear. Forsyth shows the confidence of a real composer here, hanging in the background and giving all of the lovely licks to Marc Orleans’ lazy steel guitar, Nate Wooley’s squelchy trumpet, and Koen Holtkamp’s rushing, airy synth. It’s like an imaginary ascent into sun-dappled clouds, at once woozy and exhilarating.
It might seem like a lazy writer’s conceit to reduce Forsyth’s music to a series of alleged influence. But believe me, they’re there, and I don’t think he was being lazy when he put them together; this record has too effective and specific a pay-off for that. Rather, he is like the collage artist who capitalizes on the recognition value of the elements in his work, but makes them do his own bidding.