Home Read Albums Of The Week: Chris Forsyth | Evolution Here We Come

Albums Of The Week: Chris Forsyth | Evolution Here We Come

The maverick guitarist births a unique sonic hybrid — with help from members of Dream Syndicate, Tortoise and others — on this expansive art-rock masterwork.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “It’s been a minute since we’ve thought much about ‘evolution.’ Most folks these days seem focused more on change, which perhaps is as it should be — change involves things we can more readily control, or so we think. Surrounded by more global catastrophe and local collapse than we can measure, the idea of ‘evolution’ feels almost quaint, like something we literally might not have time for. But Chris Forsyth’s Evolution Here We Come suggests that we do. It reminds us that we can fight for the future all we want to — in fact, we’d better — but the result is likely to be different, and a whole lot weirder, than anything we can anticipate.

To wit: If you think you know already what you’ll be getting into here — heady, Television-esque multi-guitar jams played with motorik precision and a fiercely American intensity (you know, a Forsyth record) — well, go ahead and think that. Only … maybe the pulsing bass, curiously lurching drumbeat, and lunar synth squiggling of Sun Ra Arkestra maestro Marshall Allen that opens Experimental & Professional will set you back on your heels. But just for a moment, before Ryan Jewell’s drums and Tortoise alum Douglas McCombs’ bass twine into perfect alignment and then guitars — played by Forsyth and Tom Malach of Garcia Peoples — start chipping and hammering, twittering and sparring, the whole thing managing to evoke Remain in Light without sounding remotely like it. (And certainly without sounding like the ZZ Top homage that the song’s title, lifted from Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers, might lead you to expect.)

After a euphoric instrumental called Heaven For A Few (euphoric until its ringing tones turn unnerving as it peaks), the band plunges into a rendition of Richard Thompson’s You’re Going To Need Somebody, abetted by the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and the Baseball Project/Filthy Friends drummer Linda Pitmon on backing vocals. Forsyth and his collaborators — elsewhere, there’s Bill Nace (Body/Head) playing an electrified Japanese harp, Nick Millevoi bringing some lap steel, and Stuart Bogie (Antibalas) on flutes — are synthesizing some weird spirits, but all these crosscurrents and contributors don’t just whip up an influence stew: This is arguably both the most cohesive and the most fluid record Forsyth has ever made.

Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Where earlier albums like All Time Present or Intensity Ghost felt sprawling, disjunctive in ways that were thrilling, Evolution Here We Come is both musically expansive and conceptually taut: There’s an openness to the whole thing that feels almost like a dub record, the songs themselves are twisty enough to get lost in, and yet, with the exception of the monster closer (14 glowing, simmering, ecstatic minutes of Robot Energy Machine), they’re all fairly short, most of them hovering around the five minute mark.

Key contributions throughout come from Darkside’s Dave Harrington, who is all over this record, playing everything from congas to Wurlitzer to pedal steel to flute in addition to mixing and co-producing. (This is the first time Forsyth has shared production duties, but that trust was earned over the last few years, when together they made and released the First Flight and First Flight Redux albums on Forsyth’s own Algorithm Free label.) It would be a mistake to read any of this as signaling any kind of radical departure for Forsyth; what it is, rather, is a sort of radical continuation.

Which reverts to the point: Evolution Here We Come is a record about the unpredictability of the future (a fact made explicit in the title track’s lyrics about skeleton keys and “secrets hidden in the clear light of day”), but also about the plasticity of the past. Because as the record pays additional homage, both musical and verbal, to various other ghosts that haunt its corners — including Sonic Youth, Creedence, R.E.M. and others — it becomes clear that while that future remains uncertain and the end may actually be near this time around (unless it’s not: such uncertainty is very much to the point), Evolution Here We Come sits where Forsyth always seems to summon us: Deep inside the all-time present, which happens to be the only thing we’ve got. It’s not the world we were promised, but it might not be the one we most dread exactly either. A record like this might make us feel lucky to be alive in it, poised for whatever happens next.”