The road less traveled is filled with the most interesting things – the more daring feats that forces change to take place in life, and the most tranquil of places that gives pause when life is too hectic. Regardless, the road less traveled brings about change from the norm – it’s exciting. This brings me to Fran Dominguez (Forest Robots).
I have reviewed Forest Robots twice since being introduced to his instrumental music simply because he always gives his audience a different perspective when it comes to visualizing things at a different angle. His third full album Times When I Know You’ll Watch the Sky is no different.
Forest Robots calls his third album an ode to Autumn, so to me, it is an ode to change – specifically changing the mindset of individuals thus allowing them to gravitate towards nature instead of away from nature. Released November of 2019, Times When I Know You’ll Watch the Sky features eleven tracks:
- Just Before Nightfall in The Forest
- Everything Under the Light of The Full
- It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath the Old Lake
- In the Late Autumn Rainstorm
- Deep in The Milky Way Spectrum
- The Last of The Melting Snow
- Times When I Know You Watch the Sky II
- The Clouds That First Gather at The Mountain
- Faint Sunlight in The Far Horizon
- Of Rivers and Rivers of Light
- Follow the Fog and The Rain
I will be interpreting the album’s highlights.
The first song “Just Before Nightfall in The Forest,” opens the album gracefully, the second song, “Everything Under the Light of The Full Moon,” has a nice subtle Hip Hop drum pattern that flows throughout the track. This percussive foundation plays well with the music box melody. Both of these dominant techniques makes “Everything Under the Light of The Full Moon” an odd track with swagger, and lends itself to musically describe the song’s theme of tranquility being found in the least expected places, for example, how many things unexpectedly come to life under the light of the moon that was not apparent during the sunlight. The hand claps, light synths, a nostalgic hip-hop drum pattern helps illustrate this theme.
And, one of the most memorable bass riffs on the album is featured in “It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath the Old Lake.”
The solo synth is gently perplex, and that steady tip-toe synth and bassline stays constant and helps give the song a rich footing. “It Lies Sunk Deep Beneath the Old Lake” is one of the shortest songs on Times When I know You’ll Watch the Sky and leaves listeners questioning what TRULY lies deep within their souls? What secrets need to be unearthed?
“In the Late Autumn Rainstorm” illustrates how life can often be a bit gloomy. Its musical structure alludes to this theme, as Forest Robots incorporates a darker vibe in the form of a low riding synth bottom and light synths becoming adlib-like. At the one minute / four seconds mark, the track modulates and gets fuller. From that point, the song builds, drops, become sustained, and rebuilds at the two minutes mark. This production technique gives the effect of air suspension. In addition, I enjoyed the snappy percussions. This song as a Pop feel to it and has the most energy out of the entire album.
But when it comes to a song personifying humanity, the title track has this emotion sewn up.
“Times When I Know You Watch the Sky II” truly sets the bar high when it comes to music without a lyrical counterpart being so illustrative. Forest Robots has done a wonderful job in giving this song such personality – like, its opinionated melody that stubbornly chooses when to be mellow or full bodied with cascading synths or falling keys. Also, the percussions are pulsating, as percussions normally would be in an expressive song, yet these percussions are ebbing, which makes them appear charmingly clever. This track highlights the album’s theme of being connected to nature throughout all aspects of life – keeping your eyes above and below.
The tenth track, “Of Rivers and Rivers of Light,” is about the difference between aesthetic and isolated elements in nature. As the title affirms, we have “rivers,” and then we have “rivers of light.” To illustrate, we have RIVERS that we can see and touch, and then we have RIVERS OF LIGHT or beams of light, and bands within the cosmos that are seen but are untouchable. Still, both the aesthetic and isolated elements are easily felt, explorable, and adds to the fullness of one’s life. The 10th song also has one of the best grooves of the album due to that sustained synth in the introduction that forms the spine of the track. Musically, it does the same thing to the ears of the listener that water does once a pebble is dropped into the water – a ripple effect starts. Hand claps adds the element of surprise, and the song ends with a ditty of synths.
The album closes with “Follow the Fog and The Rain” – a contemplative track that leaves a message of being FEARLESS! Every instrument within this track clearly points to the building up courage to enable one to go where life takes them – through the not so clear moments in life. It’s like mood music. Every eight seconds, the music on this track rises and falls as if they were tides. After listening to “Follow the Fog and Rain,” surely a person will have to recollect how humans appreciate the sunny moments in life because they forged their way through the fog and rain.
So, when I listen to an instrumental track or album, of course there are no lyrics to give descriptions or tell stories. Yet, the messages are all contained in the music for me. The drops and modulations of the melodies; the tempo of the instruments; the pauses, accelerations, and stops! In other words, every note that the music presents, really builds a story and truly describes a tale. And it is only with quality instrumental music that I can pull a clear understanding.
After listening to 40 minutes of instrumental music within the frame of Times When I Know You’ll Watch the Sky, I can say that this is music on a whole other level. The vibrant illustration of living life and enjoying its natural tapestry is all housed in 11 songs.
This is Forest Robots’ strongest album to date as he widens his musical lens and makes the album universally appealing not focusing so much on one concept but bringing about many musical models to form a more conceptual diverse theme. Still he stays true to his skills of being able to merge IDM sounds to synth-wave, acoustic, and orchestral elements without anything sounding cheesy or redundant. This is all brought to life by being skilled in playing celesta, synthesizers, glockenspiel, and harp while knowing how to balance the instrument’s resonance. And, the way that Forest Robots plays it spot-on talent with confidence! Not being genre-specific, the styling of each song is in the details of the music.
Each song title gives a sneak peek as to what the song is about to say, and the music just builds the picture alluding to times when you will watch the sky or be present in life.
Forest Robots’ music is always nature-themed, but this time around it is not so much about the appreciation of nature but more about swaying towards nature instead of against nature; and, it’s more about recognizing nature and understanding how it is very much connected to humans – our moods, loves, hates, epiphanies, and differences, as well as, how life mimics nature. For example, the rain being like sorrow. So after gaining this sense of understanding and recognition from the music, I can say that Forest Robots’ music makes his listeners want to explore nature – the sky, the fog, rain, rivers, light, darkness, sky, seasons, and luminaries to draw a connection.
With the world so heighted with angst, fear, and anger, it is good to put on an album that helps you unwind, reflect, connect, and love again. You do not have to overthink anything. Times When I Know You’ll Watch the Sky takes the confusion out of the wonderment and restores hope and appreciation of life.
(c) Lakisha Skinner