Body Pains is the self-released, full-length debut by Long Beach duo Forest of Tongue, their follow-up to 2010’s Bacon & Eggs EP. Upon first listen, it’s easy to throw around terms like “lo-fi” and “prog-infused”– and both certainly apply– but those labels (especially the latter) tend to suggest a complex of self-indulgence and aimless pomposity. Fortunately, for Forest of Tongue this is not the case. Far from it, to be sure. Off the bat, album opener “Keep In Mind” mercurially flows in and out of idiosyncratic rhythms, exhibiting the instrumental chops of both guitarist/vocalist Joel Jasper and drummer Zach Mabry. More importantly, the two members play exceptionally well together, continually trading impressive licks but never drifting astray or slipping into a directionless abyss.
As a guitar/drum two-piece, Forest of Tongue fits more comfortably alongside noise-damaged bands like No Age and Gauntlet Hair than garage rock revivalists like the Black Keys, at least sonically. Structurally, the unpredictable asymmetry of Deerhoof comes to mind. The nine tracks on Body Pains are underpinned by a slightly-in-the-red static that ultimately proves endearing to the album’s DIY aesthetic (the band recorded the album in the back shed of Jasper’s old house, assuming total control of the recording process). At times, however, the audiophile inside of me begs for a wee-bit more production polish that might accentuate the otherwise sublime sound creations. Altogether, this minor quibble is trumped in a major way by the record’s ambition and relentless energy.
Perhaps what is most immediately striking about Forest of Tongue is Jasper’s unique vocal style. With unhinged quirks that recall Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth and gleams of operatic expressiveness reminiscent of (not joking) Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, Jasper approaches his songs like a therapy session, unabashedly letting it all out. On “Who Needs You,” the album’s sprawling, seven-minute climax, he repeats the line, “I’m so heartbroken,” to the point of near-weeping, subsequently matching this emotional frenzy with a cathartic finger-tapping solo until the song floats away with a regained sense of clarity. Throughout the nontraditional structures of cuts such as “Who Needs You” or the instrumental “Blasters,” Mabry’s drumming cannot be overstated– always on point and allowing seamless transitions between ever-shifting patterns.
“Candycane Bumpers” is a clear standout, a tranquil centerpiece before the album returns to freakout mode– the eye of the storm, if you will. Jasper’s waltzing guitar and reverb-soaked, multitracked vocal harmonies interact gorgeously, met halfway by Mabry’s drums and a drunken horn. Album closer “Starspun” gives the record its “Beth/Rest” moment, implementing gloriously cheesy ’80s soft-rock keys and culminating in a guitar solo that reaches for the sky. Moreover, “Starspun” offers an important endnote of optimism to an album that bleeds heartache and, for namesake, body pains. Despite past relationship troubles and a (presumed) falling-out– areas that are all too familiar to most of us– Jasper promises only “a matter of time until we’re looking directly into each other’s eyes.”
Pay what you want for Body Pains over at Forest of Tongue’s Bandcamp page (or simply below). And check out their live show when you get the chance.[adrotate banner=”4″]