Mr. Forky

Mr. Forky

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Art rock didn't vanish once the 1970s kicked the bucket. Instead, the genre's most enduring elements were folded into more conventional rock forms and then settled for less grandiose, more commercially viable modifiers like "quirky." Throughout the ensuing decades, this manner of convergence gave listeners such critical favorites as the Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices, Mercury Rev, and Radiohead, each with its own remote, alien universe of sound. On the basis of his first album in the guise of Mr. Forky, singer/songwriter Josh Miesmer definitely belongs on the same shortlist. With help from producer Kenny Siegal, one of the catalysts behind both the Hand and Johnny Society, two other bands that qualify under the above criteria, Miesmer has crafted a debut album of sonic adventurousness and intrigue. As if to immediately underscore his ambition, he opens the album with the enigmatic sci-fi of "Time Machine," with its eerie curlicues, canyons of bass, and a tactile mysticism replacing the expected bleakness. A similarly palpable mystery runs throughout the album, whether in the bottlenecked melodies ("Revenge") or the marvelously disjointed lyrics, which don't so much tell stories as give abstract, skewed glimpses of such specifics as childhood and relationships, as well as grander, less explicitly spelled-out concepts. These motifs particularly work themselves out as expressions of uncertainty and, if not gloom itself, the creeping fear of gloom. You can hear it in the lovely shifts in tone of "Born to Low," between the woozy dark dreaming of the verses, with their Persian cast, and the lighter respites of the choruses. It comes in the gorgeous, roiling Middle Eastern arrangement and glassy, psychedelic guitar flares of "Proving Grounds," and in a touchingly romantic paean ("For Claire") that sounds like Bread with soul. But Mr. Forky still carves out plenty of dirty groove. "Confidence in Movement" has an irresistibly pudgy Gap Band bassline and one of those marvelously airbrushed, zoned-out '70s melodies to match. "Frustration Hold," too, is full of the era's sparkle-and-glazed tunefulness, while Siegal sneaks in some characteristic Abbey Road licks on the anti-nostalgic "Summer Depression." He and Miesmer then test spin (brilliantly) a glam-greasy country-honk break at the end of "Final Days," which turns out to be a warmup for the fabulous synth-and-vibes futurism of the finale, "The Blame." With its neurotic pacing, slinky and unassuming funk, and tense acoustic energy, Mr. Forky rockets right past promising into a category closer to dazzling, perhaps even breathtaking.

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