Leafcutter John

The Forest and the Sea

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As electronic music metastasizes into anything and everything with at least something run through someone's PC -- or so it seems, at least -- the terminology to describe it gets more convoluted. As a result, calling The Forest and the Sea an electronic album seems a bit strange when the first minute consists only of acoustic guitar and a plaintive voice. But as "Let It Begin" continues, bubbling glitch stutters and coolly metallic if restrained drones start coming to the fore, and it becomes no surprise that John Burton, the Leafcutter himself, once recorded for Planet Mu. Staubgold is more of a logical home, though, given the label's interest in mixed and matched styles, and if the end result ultimately founders a bit on the fact that the tracks with vocals are OK but not strikingly interesting, it's still something to potentially reward further listening. Sometimes Leafcutter shows a fine gift for contrast -- "Dream I" and "Dream III" are both straightforward enough vocal/guitar and vocal/piano numbers -- but "Dream II" is a full-on mesh of scrapes, squeals, and other sounds. Meanwhile, "In the Morning" finds Leafcutter at his best in terms of integration, a snipping of vocals coasting across a gently pulsing, increasingly active arrangement of steady pulses and textures that suddenly resolves with a brief, lovely guitar break. If anything much of The Forest and the Sea, for all the bucolic title and cover art imagery, suggests the cold, dank atmosphere of artists like Lull and Thomas K├Âner, as well as many who have followed in their wake. The dark snarls opening "Maria in the Forest," combined with the crumbling, feet-through-dry-leaves rhythm, is a fairy tale gone wrong rather than right, something the dissonant string samples and fractured collage of further noises and bursts of distortion do nothing to alleviate.

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