Too much nostalgia can be bad for you, and with a sound that references the likes of Kraftwerk and Joy Division, as well as an album cover lifted straight from 1977, it would be easy to dismiss New Yorkers Forest Fire as a band who look back instead of moving forward; and yet their third album, conceived after a line-up change and a newfound sense of purpose, is all about movement. It’s there in the unhinged motoric grooves of the sprawling album centerpiece, “Annie”, which has absolutely no trouble topping 11 minutes in length, and would, I assume, be extended further in a live setting.
It’s also there in the quartet’s ability to take influences from decades ago and weave them together into something so undeniably modern. Lo-fi production aside, there’s plenty to suggest that this is an album from 2013; its marriage of the old and the new is wrapped up in a shiny synth-pop package that imbues the likes of “Passengers” with an infectious energy. When the song slips into a joyous, guitar-driven coda around the two-minute mark, it’s easy to hear why Screens has been heralded as something new for the band.
They’ve been building toward this since they first emerged with Survival in 2009. There was enough growth on 2011′s Staring at the X (their FatCat Records debut) to suggest that the band favored the slow build and a lengthy career over merely briefly flirting with the idea of being in a band. Far be it from them to burn out in a blaze of glory, and that’s particularly evident here; the woozy psych-pop of “Monorail”, driven by drums so dry that they’d probably go up in flames if the track shifted gears, is one of the album’s 10 tracks that makes its impact over time.
More immediate thrills are to be found in the ascending synth scales and echoing guitars of album opener “Waiting For The Night”. Likewise, there are chills: the appropriately named “Cold Kind” is especially icy, drum machines backing up droning synths and a strangely foreboding atmosphere that never quite manifests itself. Forest Fire have taken a sparser approach to their third album, and along with a willingness to break new ground, they have discovered the joy of analog instruments, something which is readily apparent on closer “Never Far”, which mixes waltzing programmed drums with a classic chord progression, to great effect. This really does sound like the start of a new chapter for the band; it’ll certainly be interesting to watch the story unfold.