Whilst California-based guitarist Bill Forth hasn’t exactly got a huge discography under his belt, he’ll be known to some King Crimson fans as one half of the group Ten Seconds, whose self-titled debut featuring Robert Fripp was released on DGM in 1996. In more recent times Forth has been heard as part of Lives Of The Saints - his electro-ambient duo with Ronan Chris Murphy. Their appearance was the highlight of the Destroying Silence sampler a few years ago.
Murphy produces and plays here also and whilst similar elements to Lives Of The Saints are detectable, Forth’s deep-space atmospherics are spread much further over a vast and intricately detailed canvas that alternates between poles of exquisite illumination and washes of encroaching darkness.
The slowly undulating and labyrinthine 32-minute Mourning Doves is the album’s glorious centrepiece. Graced with Jeff Gauthier’s plaintive violin, and mesmeric drones studded with pin-pricks of feedback-derived light, the beguiling mood is occasionally reminiscent of the mournful beauty found in Harold Budd’s extended suites.
Pat Mastelotto guests on two of the eight tracks, scattering rhythmic pulses amidst Forth’s depth-charge sonics and yearning lyricism. Although notionally an ambient music record, there’s a hard edge which piques interest and offers several welcome left-field surprises.
BARRY CLEVELAND | GUITAR PLAYER
"Worthy of Note"
This album was released in 2009, but I only became aware of it recently. Forth has been associated with Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft community, and has played in GC-related groups such as the Hellboys and Ten Seconds, and percussionist Pat Mastelotto contributes to two tracks on Adamantine. Other than some Frippertronics-inspired looping here and there and a general Soundscape-esque sensibility, however, Forth avoids direct borrowing, Elements of '80s-era Eno and Jon Hassell do peek through, especially in terms of the nuanced production, with myriad subtle sounds lurking almost subliminally in the mix-- yet the music has a distinct flavor. At the heart of the album is the 32-minute long "Mourning Doves," a droning, mesmeric piece featuring Jeff Gauthier's transcendent violin work. This is followed by my personal favorite, the serene "The Stream Of Our Life," again featuring Gauthier's lovely playing. This music is several cuts above the typical ambient outing.
"...Fayman and Forth, with various guest musicians, have created a pure and ambitious piece of work with a consummate finesse of which they can be proud."
I must make a disclaimer here because rising before me, ghastly and sickly pale, is the spectre of nepotism, the old pals syndrome - “Oh yes, we go back a long way”: “I have a friend who will be perfect for the job”: “Your friend says great things about you”; “That’s what friends are for.” It’s oils that grease the cogs of society, government, monarchy, stock exchange, media, utility companies and all the acts of social intercourse, great and small. Of course it is friends, buddies, chums, mates, comrades; the contacts and relationships, complete with a bulging phone book that makes the music business swing like it does. What does this have to do with this album? Well, I know very well Jeffrey Fayman and Bill Forth, the two protagonists behind TEN SECONDS; they are friends of mine.
I heard the first incarnation of this recording several years ago, and given the task of reviewing this CD, my impartiality has taken a lunch break! Any snide remarks about the only obstacle is a lack of talent (“It’s only talent that is holding them back”), this will simply not do; or in case, have its just desserts. But thank God, I like it, so now I can get on with it with impunity - thanks for the dinner Bill Forth.
“Ten Seconds” opens with a tentative snare drum roll and brooding atmospherics which sharply give way to a monumental guitar riff carved out of the rockface cunningly disguising the 7/4 groove. “Where is the real life?” sings Forth, and suddenly it’s NINE INCH NAILS versus KING CRIMSON, as Robert Fripp enters the battle with an agitated guitar built to tear speakers to shreds.
The fretting spectre of Fripp looms large over this album, and here comes that old nepotic feeling again. Because Bill Forth and Fripp are friends, and because “Ten Seconds” is released on Fripp’s record label means that he gets to play all over it - which is exactly what he does. He’s everywhere on this doing his Soundscaping-guitar-synthesizing-dissonance-a-go-go, calling fallen angels to come screaming out of the skies, ringing the bells of doom throughout the more unsettling moments of this album. Nothing wrong with that really, but when Bill Forth’s guitar and Jeffrey Fayman’s keyboards become virtually indistinguishable from the ubiquitous Fripperies, it sounds like too many cooks have fallen into the mix soup. But if you want to hear what happened to this particular song before it got put into the Discipline Records blender, there is an alternative mix which is harder, tougher and almost unbearably menacing with an electronic drum track to rattle the pictures off the wall and loosen a few fillings.
“The Last Few Minutes (Parts 1 and 2) are instrumental interludes which prolong the pregnantly brooding atmosphere that infuses this record with half-seen musical landscapes that evoke the same kind of tension as the best King Crimson moments. In “Nightwebs” Forth’s vocal delivery is a little too, too tentative and self-conscious in what should be a full-frontal assault of a song, but somehow ends up being more like an iron fist with a limp wrist. This quickly leads into “Zerophase” complete with thoroughly evil guitar abuse, exploding drum kits, floating voice overs and atonal conflicts which finally battles into a formidable funk groove set up by bass player Jac Mihanovic and drummer William Rieflin who gives solid support throughout the album.
“Can’t Hold Back the Dawn” is probably the most straightforward song with nice little guitar picking riffs and large splashes of fuzz solos (Fripp or Forth?) and a tight, concise melody and controlled, temperate musicianship. A thunderous guitar riff sounding like a petulant METALLICA brings “No Way to Paradise” with distorted Forth vocals intoning “Drive all night - no turning back”, which gives a wistful edge to a hard hitting bulldozer of a song.
This segues imaginatively, and beautifully, into “The Last Three Minutes, Pt. 2” (does this mean there are actually six last minutes, and then three, last, last minutes?) This renews the broad sense of brooding that pervades like an imminent thunderstorm over the album For myself, these instrumental passages really have vision and invention and transcend the physicality of studio hardware, reaching into realms of sound without limitations of definition or formal structure.
“Worlds Beyond Worlds” continues with this principle with a surprising serenity of guitar and keyboards weaving tranquil abstractions that float out of the speakers.
I wish I had heard more of Jeffrey Fayman’s contribution to this project with his drum treatments and keyboards. He is a very imaginative drummer and I would have loved to hear him play real drums, and a little less of Robert Fripp at every turn, although his contribution is an intelligent one. But either way, this is an album that shows imagination, ingenuity and insight, which although somewhat lacking emotion, seldom resorts to cliché or boring rock repetition.
Fayman and Forth, with various guest musicians, have created a pure and ambitious piece of work with a consummate finesse of which they can be proud. If you like King Crimson’s “THRAK”, David Bowie’s, “Outside”, and Scott Walker’s “Tilt”, or any of the NINE INCH NAILS type of aural assaults you should go out and buy TEN SECONDS CD. Thanks for the free copy, Bill.