Forest Robots

Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning

LOUDER THAN WAR

There are few greater responsibilities that many of us will have to carry in our lives than parenthood. California-based composer Fran Dominguez takes that responsibility extremely seriously. For him, his role as father to his young daughter is the single most important aspect of his life and he applies all of his musical abilities to letting her know that. Indeed, he describes his music as a love letter to his daughter, one which expounds the wonders of nature and the legacy he wishes to leave behind for her.

On his fourth and latest album, Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, Dominguez explores themes of spirituality, existentialism and ethics and how each of these relates to the experience of parenthood in a world of instability and uncertainty.

 

Those are mighty big themes and, via the titles of the ten tracks, we get a clue to what’s on the artist’s mind before we even press play. It reads a little like a self-help handbook with titles such as In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom and All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First. Once we do get to the music, that sense of spirituality is further underlined. This is a collection of beatific and ethereal glacial soundscapes, set firmly in ambient territory. Those familiar with Forest Robots’ excellent 2020 release, After Geography (one of Bandcamp Daily’s Best of 2020), will find few surprises here. Dominguez clearly has a winning formula and has determined that he should stick to it. And why not?

That overall feel derives from his other major influence. As an experienced mountaineer and all-around open-air enthusiast (well, you would be in California, wouldn’t you), Dominguez takes inspiration from the great outdoors and his particular brand of minimalist electronica does certainly evoke vivid landscapes in one’s mind. Close your eyes, let the sounds wash over you and you visualise vast vistas. But interestingly, the pictures conjured up by this album are more akin to Far East than West Coast. With its chimes and marimba-like wooden percussion, Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning has the aura of tranquillity with its marked Eastern mystical vibe, redolent of lush East Asian valleys enshrouding mystical, golden temples. In that respect, the album reminded me greatly of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s early eighties collaborations with David Sylvian, such as the soundtrack to Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and Bamboo Houses. Atmospherically, it has that numinous feel; musically it is laden with melodic percussion.

That strikingly peaceful Eastern mysticism vibe seeps into your consciousness in the first few bars. The opening track, The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Widest Forests begins with deeply resonating, plucked strings atop atmospheric synths. A discordant horn-like sound provides a gorgeous counterpoint. This is followed by the dream-like Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Heights. Marimba-like percussion taps out the melody, evoking images of wood chimes plinking in the courtyards of temples of gold. Both of these tracks, particularly the latter, represent a strong introduction to the album.

The remainder of the album’s first half continues in a similar vein, which leads me to one of my few criticisms of this Forest Robots release. As the album progressed beyond the second track, it felt as though it wasn’t moving on sufficiently. By the time I reached the fifth track, In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom, I was longing for it to do something different. I know it’s ambient and that whole calming, meditative thing is the Forest Robots sound, but I just wanted something to occur and jolt me out of my reverie.


Thankfully, it came along in the shape of Even The Tallest Trees Return To The Roots. Here, Dominguez introduces another interesting counterpoint in the shape of a scraping, discordant violin sound on top of the synths and wood percussion. Immediately, we are back, prompted by the introduction of something small enough not to detract from the tranquillity, but big enough to make us sit up and pay attention. Satisfyingly, Dominguez continues with the pleasant surprises on the acoustic piano-led Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You. This track oozes personality and warmth as the sparse series of notes combine to create something quite beautiful.

However, the best is yet to come and it arrives in the shape of Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass. Once again, Dominguez introduces strings and brass that seem at odds with the eastern chimes and waves of electronic sound. He merges these different facets exquisitely, creating a piece that is utterly spellbinding. It’s the high point of the album, a gorgeous and spacious composition that will have you transfixed for its full three minutes and thirty-six seconds.

There is no doubt that electronic and ambient aficionados will love this album. Dominguez is a highly skilled composer who has produced an imaginative and thought-provoking collection with Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning. It’s an album that is similar to Boards Of Canada in the way it conjures up images of big, spacious landscapes. And for those of you who aren’t absolute ambient geeks, rest assured that this album has a place in your collection. Sure, you are unlikely to stick it on as you get ready for a big night out on the town. But there are always moments when you need to be transported somewhere else and it does that in spades. So, don the headphones, find a dark corner, lie back and stick Forest Robots on. I promise you, before long you will be in a more peaceful place.

THE FAULKNER REVIEW

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature.

This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born. In 2018, I gave glowing reviews to the albums Supermoon Moonlight – Part One and the follow up, Timberline And Mountain Crest. In 2019, he released his third full length album, Times When I Know You’ll Watch The Sky (which you can read here) and 2020 saw the release of his fourth, the critically acclaimed After Geography (read my laudatory review here).

Whereas After Geography was about exploration in nature outside the boundaries of a map, this album takes us beyond the external, physical world into the internal, metaphysical world and artistically explores the relationship between the two. In examining this philosophical relationship, it could be compared to the Transcendentalist philosophy espoused by people like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Transcendentalists saw nature as the outward sign of the inward spirit, which is similar to how Fran Dominguez “compares different aspects of nature’s cycles to our own spiritual and philosophical cycles and draws an analogous parallel between our external surroundings and our internal state of being….”

The album consists of ten tracks and opens with The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Widest Forests. It begins with plucked double bass which brings to mind one of the album’s stated influences, Pharoah Sanders’ Thembi. This represents more of a jazz influence than his previous albums and becomes part of the sonic tapestry.

It quickly develops into a vast soundscape of intermingling classical guitar, bass and atmospheric synths that perfectly captures the picture conjured by the title. Gradually other instruments emerge, haunting piano creating a cavernous feel. The crystal clear Nick Drake-style acoustic guitar has an almost harp like quality, exquisitely recorded and performed. You can also hear the influence of another ambient composer Gigi Masin.

This unique blend of ambient, Satie-esque classical and drone continues with the second track Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height. Beginning with wisps of delicate, spectral sound it is given a more earthy tone through warm organ and mesmeric use of exotic percussion that shows the influence of Jon Hassell, another pioneer who merges world ethnic styles with electronica. This slightly more grounded style again perfectly mirrors the title, musically capturing the philosophical idea.

This focus on the earth provides the metaphor for growth in the third track All Good Things Must Grow Through Dirt First. The theme brought to mind the wise saying of the great psychologist and philosopher Carl Jung: “No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell”.

After the first minute, which seems to suspend time with its gentle, almost unearthly momentum we hear the distinctive sound of a distant saxophone. It brings to mind the tranquil moments of John Coltrane’s Classic A Love Supreme and the famous fade out of Van Morrison’s Slim Slow Slider (Astral Weeks), both very spiritual works like this album. The blend of ambient and jazz works to great effect, with the sax providing a rich sonic texture.

he cycle of life we see in all of nature and how this is reflected in how we’re reborn each day is captured by fourth track We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day. The first thirty seconds are intriguing, seemingly sounds of nature that perhaps depict the start of a day in a natural setting.

This then leads into a hypnotic piece of ambience, with the use of wonderfully rich reverb making a single plucked guitar note sound absolutely vast. The development of gratitude is an essential part of progressing in our spiritual journey and somehow Dominguez manages to convey this musically here.

Some of his more experimental influences such as musique concrete come to the surface in the intro to the sagely titled In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Wisdom. It essentially takes piano and distorts the pitch to create a mesmerising, almost psychedelic effect which then develops into a magical array of drifting textures including xylophone and glockenspiel. One of my personal favourites on the album, achieving a perfect balance between melodic ambience and avant garde experimentation.

The influence of classical comes more strongly to the fore on Even The Tallest Leaves Return To The Roots, with strident staccato strings that merge with a haze of sound behind them. Developing into another intricate tapestry of interweaving melodies and percussive nuance, this track captures another part of nature’s cycle, as all leaves eventually fall back to the ground. In the final minute the percussion dies away, leaving a surge of ambience and swelling synths that create a moment of beautiful transcendence, perhaps depicting this completion of the natural cycle.

Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You starts with echo-immersed piano, once again recalling the simple but highly affecting style of French composer Erik Satie, and the use of other orchestral instrumentation gives this piece a modern classical feel. It again reflects the album’s theme of how nature is somehow a perfect metaphorical outward manifestation of our inner spiritual growth, and there is definitely an organic growth in how the music progresses from start to finish.

A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality is another important piece from the perspective of the album’s philosophy. Fran states in the album notes: “The issue of religion versus spirituality as tools to guide my daughter’s moral compass are at the forefront of my own personal journey to becoming a more competent moral guide”. The track is wonderfully tranquil with the beautiful sound of birdsong mingling amidst blissfully peaceful strands of melody, evoking once again the quiet awe one feels amongst nature.

This idea of taking spiritual inspiration and guidance from nature is continued with Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass which maintains the uplifting mood, augmented by the sound of rushing water. This piece in particular seems to merge all of Fran’s eclectic influences into a congruent whole, from classical to musique concrete.

The album closes with the solemn power of A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul. It’s a masterclass in how a minimalist style that mirrors the pace and expanse of nature can be so emotionally resonant, almost as if the music is the divine mediator between nature and the human soul itself (indeed, Beethoven said something similar to this). The piece has a brooding intensity so that when the strings swell towards the end it is truly affecting, and a most satisfying and apposite way to close the album’s journey.

Overall, this is another landmark album from a very unique composer and artist. Having made several albums that evoke the majesty of nature, here he explores how nature integrates with our own personal spiritual journey through life. His style has evolved further to incorporate an even wider palette of genres which he blends in a seamless way. Existing fans will be enthralled and many new ones will be gained, along with more critical acclaim.

NOVA MUSIC

The California-based artist Forest Robots returns to condense his eloquent and fluent electronic instrumental music into a new selection of precious tracks, amiably suspended in the suspensive and reflective atmospheres that the artist has accustomed us to savor.

After the acclaimed “After Geography” – album of 2020 which we have talked about previously, right here, and awarded by Bandcamp as Daily’s Best Of 2020, by Electronic Sound Magazine Issue 69, and by The Moderns 2019-2020 – the seasoned mountaineer and electronic composer Fran Dominguez continues to give breath and perspective to his moniker, Forest Robots, by releasing a new 10-track album.

The new work produced by Forest Robots, entitled “Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning”, fits with shrewd organicity in the stylistic characterization outlined so far. So Dominguez does not disappoint our expectations, further sealing the majestic gracefulness that characterizes his style.

The incipit at the base of this creative propulsion appears to be like a real liberating act, which imposes its cadence, here freshly referable with properties of musical language to cycles desired by nature, on which the manufactured stratification of an electronic ambient sound design is superimposed. Something in which Forest Robots has already given ample proof of being a shrewd master in tossing it.

Of course, Ambient and Electronics are two connotative cornerstones of his signature. In some ways essential, especially if related to the subjects that Fran chooses to discuss. However with “Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning” he further expands the breadth of his functional contribution.

Adding further chromatisms and both horizontal and vertical developments, Forest Robots draws on Jazz, Orchestral, Folk, and Drone music, up to the point of following an exciting wind that blows from a new land for him, certainly not close to his beloved California.

 

It is a wind that blows from the east, perfect underlining to accompany and corroborate the album’s theme, taken to explore the themes of spirituality, existentialism, and ethics. But Forest Robots’ argument is not limited to unraveling preconceptions. It goes further, allowing this probing motion to question how each of those issues relates to parenting experience in the midst of a great global cultural change like the one we are still experiencing today.

“As my daughter grows older and begins to ask questions of a more spiritual and philosophical nature, the experience of parenthood is becoming much more complex for myself,” Says Dominguez, speaking about his album. Then he continues: “The issue of religion versus spirituality as tools to guide her moral compass are at the forefront of my own personal journey to becoming a more competent moral guide. This album serves as a collection of tenets collected for her that are grounded on the idea that we reach a greater understanding of our own spirituality by observing the inner workings of our surroundings and our interconnectedness with them.”

Thus, supporting her sensitivity with organic coherence, in all ten compositions of the album, Fran compares different aspects of nature’s cycles with our spiritual and philosophical cycles. And it is precisely the act of drawing a similar parallel between our external environment and our internal state of being that Forest Robots unearths and brings to light the essence of that immaterial world, empathic, therefore, interpenetrating between the understanding of our struggles. of daily life and self-understanding.

The album has no uplifting pinnacles that rise vehemently. There are no challenging peaks to be gained. There are no outright wins to show off. Instead, there is the vastness of a conscientious climb, conducted with a reflective cadence. Slow but resilient. Quiet but pulsating. To immerse yourself in a beautiful spiritual journey, in which beauty is not in gaining the summit but in the act of making and carrying on the trip itself.

STEREO STICKMAN

Forever exploring the connections between the physical world and spirituality, Fran Dominguez releases his fifth full-length album and delves further into the themes of existentialism, ethics, and parenthood in a time of great global cultural change. 

Being a new parent myself this year, the changes within the world often capture my thoughts. Fran explores this beautifully – blending calmness and energy, creating these realms in which we consider the cycles of nature alongside our own innate cycles as humans.

From the outset, there’s a sense of heavy silence between moments – a stillness amidst uncertainty; a spacious presence. The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Widest Forests – It’s a statement that connects on a personal level for those of us who roam the forests in our free time, and always Forest Robots has this creative ability to rebuild these experiences in audio form. 

Simplicity continues to guide us, simple layers or flickers of strings and rhythms, synths and details; breaths of life, water droplets glistening, roots strengthening and new branches of colour emerging. Long-form titles provoke thought every step of the way – Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height (a personal favourite). The depths of this statement are immeasurable, with so many aspects of existence proving relevant to its wisdom.

All Things Must Grow Through Dirt First. Another idea to ponder, as the bass notes of the ground contrast and encourage the lighter, higher ones that begin to spring out above.

Perhaps the titles on this project are more striking than any of his previous works. Or perhaps it’s the times we’re living in, giving new poignancy and strength to these philosophical musings. In either case, the mind is gifted the space and subtle guidance to consider them deeply and confidently here. We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day. As always, these albums are about far more than music.

The concept of family stands out repeatedly within this collection – references to the roots, our inevitable return to them and need to reconnect; Even The Tallest Leaves Return To The Roots. Ideas true to me, personally, and comforting when thinking of the future. The music is uniquely detailed in each case, embracing the listener in a world of artistic reflection as the thoughts meander and grow.

Blending spacious extremes with subtle, retro keys – Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass, a simple three-minutes-plus recording but with a surprisingly vast and intricate arrangement. Then to finish, the empowering wash of strength and knowledge that is A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul. New dashes of composition detail, fragments of sounds, new takes on familiar samples.

Forest Robots consistently finds the right tools to build each soundscape and experience, and it’s always a refreshing pleasure to let yourself escape there.

Ambient, delicate, meditative – a breath of calm in a world of chaos. Enjoy.

DANCING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE

Ask me to name the things that I love about Forest Robots and it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps start with the names of the tracks. Take, In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom, for instance, it sounds like a piece of ancient teching rather than a song title and with the instrumental music that Forest Robots, aka Fran Dominguez, makes it is such titles which provide the only lyrical guide to the music. Then there is the music itself, spacious and beguiling pieces of drifting sonics inspired by the wilderness and wild places and acting as a soundtrack to such isolated locations.

I love the time that the music takes to work its magic. Slow and restrained, gently wrapping gossamer layers and opaque textures around itself as it gracefully drifts towards its musical conclusion. Then there is the fact that the music is unaffected by fad or fashion, happy to sit apart from styles and scenes, like Fran Dominguez himself, exploring paths less travelled and turning that geography into music.

So a new album from Forest Robots is always something to be welcomed with open arms, and indeed ears. Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, as always, is much more than about music inspired by the physical geography of the world beyond the city limits and the lights of civilization. It is about the reflections and thoughts which come from spending time in such places, a meditation on life accessed and ccellerated by the quiet and vastness of the open. This album explores themes of spirituality, existentialism and ethics but also, being a parent himself, Dominguez meditates on parenthood amid the global instability of today’s world. What started as a love-letter to his daughter about the value of the natural world has blossomed over time into an accoustic essay on life itself.

The Biggest Soul Searches Require the Widest Forest rises to open the album, beguiling bass pulses and shards of shimmering electronica arranged in non-linear patterns balancing almost, random structures with intriguing off-beat melodies. And leaning more towards the orient than the occident as it does so. All Things Must Grow Through Dirt First speaks volumes in its title alone, a reminder that everything starts small, that remaining grounded is vital and then expressing such a notion through tendrils of sound which seem to slowly grow towards the light.

It is perhaps in A Church is Religion, A Tree is Spirituality that gets to the heart of Forest Robots both musically and philosophically. Religion suggests conformity and control, spirituality infers a more personal connection to the universe. It also reminds us of our connection to the earth and our duty to preserve it. And as the chiming notes and cascading tones rain down through the music, it is easy to imagine yourself at one with the landscape, the planet, the universe.

Even The Tallest Leaves Return To the Roots is another track that says so much through the title alone. A reminder of the cyclical nature of all things, that achievement is transient, that all things return to the source to begin again, shards of strings and droplets of sound seem to drift down on a wash of rising background sonics to begin the journey again.

This masterful album is all about understatement and space. Even the track titles, 87 words in all, arranged into 10 statements, have more to say than most artists contribute in their entire career. It is an album that blurs the lines between ambient electronica and drone, synthwave and neo-classical, is filmic and meditative and most of all unique.

If comparisons are to be found it is in the work of the likes of Brian Eno and Boards of Canada and perhaps even Four Tet. But like all of those artists, it is their singular vision and ability to explore their own creativity which means that such artists can only provide the most passing of references.

Rarely has an album been able to say so much with so few sonic strokes and, in a canon of brilliant albums, Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, is a fantastic high point. Although when Forest Robots releases the next one, I’m sure I will be saying much the same.

MONOLITH COCKTAIL

Approaching the most restless of times with the most intuitive and peaceable of contoured ambient imbued and mapped albums, the composer and cross-country explorer Fran Dominguez – under his chosen Forest Robots alias – is gaining much attention and acclaim for his empirical sonic suites.

Making our very own choice albums of the year features in 2020 with the settled mood music of After Geography, Dominguez invited us all to join him on a timeless like reflective and meditative trek across an awe-inspiring landscape; a mindful excursion of mountains and natural phenomenon that sought to offer a safe space away from all the tumult.

His latest ambient and neo-classical tinged opus is full of similar deep connective sanctuaries for the mind. Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, we’re told, explores the themes of spirituality, existentialism and ethics and ‘how each relates to [the] experiences of parenthood’: A sort of Zen and the art of parenting meditation if you will. There’s much more of course to digest, and outlined in the PR spill, but that’s the basic gist. Dominguez articulates these concerns in a Taoist like sagacious state, with an album of gently unfurled and revealed emotional washes: some of which literally do wash over you.

Dominguez is inspired musically by Jon Hassell (a given I’d say), Gigi Masin (most certainly), and Weather Report (not so obvious), but mood wise specifically by such Jazz maestros as Coltrane and his Love Supreme game-changer, and Pharoah Sanders’ exploration towards shorter peregrinations, the iconic Thembi album. The sensibility of those jazz traverses may linger, maybe traced in the efflux of this record; there’s certainly a suffused if fleeted drift of light saxophone to be heard downplayed in the fizzy vapours and swirled square waves of ‘All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First’.

However, for the most part the oft melodious philosophically proposed quandaries flow between the ambient, neo-classical and afflatus. Beatific stained glass piped organ evokes those spiritual considerations on the marimba twinkled ‘A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality’ for example, whilst the Bamboo music, mallet chiming ‘Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height’ has its own rays of veneration to share. Some suites truly do ascend towards the heavenly, like the accentuated flange-fanned guitar and serialism piano elegant ‘We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day’. But the guiding light is a beautiful if sad, yearned and cerebral one.

Twinkled baubles, quivered elbowed and frayed strings, plucked mibra tangs, and what sounds like a rustic oboe are just some of the instruments and sounds used to evoke, stir up the emotions. They also (to these ears anyway) evoke certain geographical suggestions: from the Orient to Appalachians. Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning is something to both contemplate and wind down with, an articulation of both old tropes and the contemporary, handled with the most sublime of organic touches. Its every bit as rewarding and moving as After Geography, and will no doubt cement Dominguez’s reputation as one of the most creative and interesting ambient music visionaries of the past few years. Take some time out to immerse yourself in his brand of panoramic escapism.

JAMSPHERE MAGAZINE

Let’s start by saying that Fran Dominguez aka Forest Robots compositional creativity is great, but his constant evolution makes him truly remarkable. Meticulous arrangements and powerful atmospheric atmospheres play roles of equal importance, on his latest 10 track project “Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning”, pushing the artistic chops of Forest Robots into the highest hemisphere of Ambient, Jazz, Orchestral, Folk, Drone, and Electronic music. In an album which explores themes of spirituality, existentialism, and ethics, and how each relates to the experience of parenthood amidst great global cultural change, exists a compelling definitude of accessibility and density.

What ties “Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning” together, is a musical structure as open-ended as it is painstakingly calculated. Forest Robots delivers each soundscape with impressive detail and evocative emotion, as he reaches his creative apex, on what is his fifth album. Here Fran compares different aspects of nature’s cycles to our own spiritual and philosophical cycles, and draws an analogous parallel between our external surroundings and our internal state of being.

Awe-inspiring is the fact that Forest Robots affronted these already complex themes, without the aid of words and voices, instead finding the perfect foundation in an epic instrumental canvas with which to articulate his vision. The sheer quantity of sounds, auras and moods flow like a series of deep meditations, resulting in a terrific piece of affecting art that deserves to be heard.

To execute such a complex yet singular set of aesthetics and narratives so convincingly, is rare, especially with such clarity of musical vision and technical expertise.  The depth and intimacy of each track along, with the intricacy of its arrangement, will leave you totally engrossed and simultaneously bewildered.

Flooded with ideas, thoughts and feelings, the music somehow manages to remain at peace with itself, as Forest Robots succeeds in manipulating these many interconnected themes into shapes that remain coherent and soulfully expressive.

Forest Robots is deeply engrossed in these tracks, trying to capture and understand each fleeting nuance of the narratives, deciphering how to translate them, give them meaning, and how to best harness their power.

In the process he has uncovered great musical ideas in this record that creates a space to connect multiple genre flavors. You could listen to “Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning” ten times in a row, each time with a pen and paper, and still miss ideas, sounds and influences that are at the album’s core.

The track titles alone, are thoroughly thought out, ingenious in their conception, and immediately inspiring. Among them, “Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height”, “All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First”, “A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality” and “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul”. This is an album of multiple representations, forging metaphoric, spiritual and material visions of the connection between interiority and exteriority.

ANTI: MUSIC

The follow-up to his critically successful “After Geography” (Bandcamp Daily’s Best Of 2020, Electronic Sound Magazine, The Moderns 2019-2020). Fran Dominguez (Forest Robots) has crafted something oddly intricate but straightforward and quintessential in ambient music. With work often compared to the greats in this field, it’s no wonder how moving this album turns out being with mature sounds developed and continuing.


He says his main inspiration comes, significantly, from his daughter, which you can recognize this spirit in the track names. Forest Robots concentrates this motivation through themes regarding spirituality, existentialism, and the ethical translation of parenthood experience.

The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Widest Forests” features delicate bass strings balance musical light streaming as a hi-fi whisper, with the humming from dry bells, as molecular textures trickle from its breath. A great violin clamps the atmosphere in the distance, and we hear the bass’s strings gradually pluck higher, swinging through vibration. Melancholy drenches the piano, rising soft colors, then plummeting to the sounds verdure. The energy runs, but slowly, contemplating past and future; two brisk factions of mortality colliding with volition, but in a cosmic, evanescent dance, filled with character. The piano exits, and we hear silent whispers from pipes streaming through muffled conduits of audio passages. “Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height” is an offspring of the sounds heard before, but with variation, complemented by the delicate organ and the ethereal windpipes.

Intuitive starlight runs across the sky, replenished in wisdom beholden to the spirit of harmony. Forest Robots articulates the emotion pouring into various landscapes, reviving angles with the herbs of simple instruments. “All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First” allows plush winds and sonic lambency to touch the background delicately, while assortments of bass notes (and what sounds like) a saxophone swings across the open field. The piano is an ornament of the soundscape, aromatic and blooming, being the absolute delicacy for me in these surreal, meditative ingredients. “We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day” takes an experimental turn, gripping with grainy textures, trickling and stripped of identity. But, in an instant, the music is reborn. The narrow path unfolds space, and the kinship of analog instruments, swirling in ambiance. I had fun in this region. My mind transported all over senses of the weightless gravity, condensing to the surface but loosened, allowing one to run into the forest and discover themselves. You can catch a glimpse of Forest Robots character, shining from the musical mirage influenced by daily life. The song was compelling. But, “In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom” is no exception. Thin sounds stretch as the mind’s dawn awakens. The playful and slightly out-of-tune piano entertains. A mallet walks across this setting, with more mature sounds accompanying, guiding the music.

 The track titles breathe essence into each song, being seamless and poetic. “Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass” is perfect, not only in its diaphanous quality, with the birds fluttering behind the outpour of electric and worldly life merging, but mirrors the experiences we can share and pass on for future generations, surrounding their atmosphere with appreciation. “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” is the final track to Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, swarms with clever mixes. Concentrating quality to shine. Forest Robots create the most enshrining arrangements, turning into avenues pulsing with emotions, stirring the imagination. I highly encourage anyone to purchase the CD, or at least stream from Bandcamp, as Amongst A Landscape of Spiritual Reckoning is an incitation to worlds beyond imagining.

STEPKID MUSIC

Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning is a new album from Forest Robots (the musical project of Fran Dominguez), being released through Emmasierra Songs and Wormhole World Records. The album has an official release date of April 2, 2021 but has been made available for preorder on Bandcamp.

With this latest collection of instrumental compositions, Fran focuses most of his attention on spirituality, ethics and existentialism, approaching them within the context of parenthood in a rapidly changing world. As with his previous releases, the relationship between humans and their natural surroundings features prominently, as Fran attempts to musically illustrate how the cycles in nature mirror our own spiritual and philosophical rotations.

It can be difficult to convey such illustrious themes musically (especially without vocals), but the titles of the songs offer the listener some direction. For example, as the track name suggests, A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality explores the distinction between religion and spirituality. As the artist’s daughter has gotten older, apparently philosophical questions like these have become more common, adding new levels of complexity to the role of parenting.

As far as the music itself, Forest Robots once again has delivered some truly stellar compositions. The music here is avant garde, creative and technically superb. The sound oscillates between softly meditative and boldly theatrical. Songs like In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom have a 1970s, almost eco-futuristic quality. The atmospheric ambiance could be that of either a remote part of the wilderness or the outer regions of the solar system. It’s probably my favorite song on the album and would haunt nicely in any classic, European science fiction film. We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Dayhas more of a delicate, graceful feel to it, while Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass is enchantingly orchestral.

The music has an “experimental” component to it but is also well-performed in the traditional sense. Forest Robots cites Jon Hassell, Gigi Masin, Weather Report, Nick Drake as musical influences for this album. Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle is also listed as a thematic inspiration. Overall, Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning is a powerful work of art. It’s sensitive, beautiful and extremely moving

THE BANDCAMP DIARIES

Forest Robots is a music project with a distinctive sound and a very diverse creative twist. Throughout the years, this mercurial recording act managed to explore a huge range of musical influences and ideas, fiercely pursuing diverse creative outlets and never giving in to routine and “boxes,” which are sometimes so comfortable for artists. Recently, Forest Robots announced the release of a brand new studio album titled “Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning.” The evocative title matches the scope of this production, highlighting the intensely meditative quality of this release. The first song, The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Widest Forests, is actually a perfect introduction to this particular release. The song is richly nuanced, yet dark and minimalistic, creating a desolate and contemplative soundscapes which echoes the work of artists like Sigur Ròs, as well as This Will Destroy You and Hammock, only to mention but a few. The following track, Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height, falls along the same lines, but it features a busier arrangement, with some incredibly interesting lo-fi sounds and some free-form melodic patterns that are akin to beautiful cascading sounds. This track makes me think of the endless ambient experiments of artists such as Brian Eno, especially in the roundness of the melodies and percussion instruments, creating soothing blankets of sounds.

The third song is titled All Great Things Must Grow Through Dirt First. This particular track name is incredibly thought-provoking, and it highlights how sometimes you need to go through some difficult experiences in life, before something good can come along. This track is melodic and pleasantly arranged, with some lo-fi textures adding more liveliness and motion to the mix. There’s a futuristic element to this song, which makes me think of artists such as Air or Robert Fripp, among others. We Only Die Once, But Can Be Grateful Every New Day follows right along. This track begins with a cornucopia of natural sounds: the crickets singing at nights, birds, frogs and many other creatures, seamlessly blending in with a synth drone that later leads to silence, becoming more soaring and prominent in the mix. Listening to the intro of the song and later going through the bigger synth soundscapes makes me think of being in a spaceship at night, leaving the Earth and heading further deep into the vastness of outer space. The dreamy, reverberated guitar tones are incredibly poignant, and some of the most touching melodies on this entire album.

In The Climb, Not The Summit, Lies The Most Wisdom is another beautiful title, an incitement to enjoying the experience, rather than the outcome. I love the warped, lo-fi keyboard sounds that appear in the beginning - It kind of sounds like an old toy keyboard that’s been circuit-broken and manipulated in order to create something awesome with it! This is a song with a diverse range of sounds, and it is probably one of the most cinematic tracks on the entire release.

Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You is a touching song that almost reminds me of neoclassical composers such as Philip Glass. I love the minimalist melodies on this one, and the bare sounds that are more introspective and dynamic.

A Church Is Religion, A Tree Is Spirituality keeps the mood mellow and smooth, with one of the most inwards-searching sonic journeys on this particular album. The song is very immersive, and there is no limit to what the artist can accomplish, with so much passion and depth! Mirror Your Patience From Trees, Persistence From Grass feels like a perfect continuation, almost like the sound of sunshine coming out after a dark day of endless rain.I love the sense of spontaneity and the open-ended feel of this song, which leads to the conclusive track, A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul. The latter is the perfect curtain closer for this release. It begins with a slow-rising, brooding introduction that has a post-rock feel to it. The ambient influences are really strong in this one, but the track later reaches a melodic climax, with some poetic piano chords and bass notes.

Ultimately, this album is a record that deserves your full attention. Dim the lights, press play and let it flow!

SLEEPING BAG STUDIOS

Even just scanning the names of the titles in the lineup of the new album by Forest Robots became such a vivid reminder of how much I love the uniqueness of this project and its purpose.  Like, you’re telling me right off the drop, I get to experience a track called “The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Wildest Forests?”  How’s that for an awesome start & a clever insight straight off the bat?  Love it.  So stoked to have this mysterious & melodic project back in the mix this year – I always love me some Forest Robots.

The pensive, peaceful, and thought-provoking style of Forest Robots is back on display from moment one as you push play on “The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Wildest Forests” and the new album begins…you get that instant hit of atmospheric instrumentalism this project has been synonymous with right away.  Personally, my experience with the ambient genre & related cousins to it have generally taught me one thing consistently through the longevity of just about any career band or artist out there, in that usually, the progression of time tends to have this style becoming less of itself & more involved as the years go on.  I like that Forest Robots seems to not really follow that trend whatsoever – if anything, this project of Fran’s becomes more & more ambient, low-key, and subtle as time marches forward.  The melody in his music continues to remain a strong presence as you listen to the songs on Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, but doled out in spacious atmospheres where the notes & tones will spread out into the air like wisps of smoke, or a memory you try to see quickly before it fades from the view of your mind.  Essentially, you’ll find songs like “The Biggest Soul Searches Require The Wildest Forests” and the rest of the album to come, play in very spiritual ways.  Fran will give you a glimpse, a hint, a steady path through a delicate melody to listen to, but it always becomes up to our own minds to choose whether or not to fill in the gaps with the imagery of our thoughts & where songs like this will take you through their sweet audible trance, or to simply let the serenity & peace surround you with the inherent warmth you’ll find in Forest Robots.  Or do both – honestly, you can’t lose; sometimes I’ll listen and drift right into my own thoughts, sometimes I’m sitting there intently right up close and considering life & how it relates to the entire world around us – music like this is supposed to move you in some way, shape, or form, and any of those results would always be more than beneficial.

Texture is always a tool well-used in the Forest Robots method of creating sensory sound – and I loved how quickly you feel like you could reach out and touch a song like “Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height” so instantly.  We used to have this like…what was it…it was a…I suppose you’d call it a turntable of sorts, but a digital one…used to have a pair of them actually in sleepingbagstudios back in the day before we moved locations – and when you’d spin a digital mp3 or wav file, it would start with faster momentum than when it ended – you following?  The slower you’d turn it, the more spread out each iteration of whatever sound would come through…and at its slowest, you’d find tiny flecks of absolutely astounding moments that you’d never hear otherwise.  As “Sustenance Comes From The Roots, Not The Height” began, it reminded me so much of that sound…I ain’t gonna lie, I could spend hours and hours just spinning ANY song at the slowest of speeds, just to hear something similar to this.  I get though…I ain’t everyone.  That’s far from all you’ll find on this second tune on Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning though – you’ll find all kinds of glowing warmth & comforting vibes come along with it…all intricately played at a compelling pace that leads you forward in the most gentle of manners.  I love the way Fran’s able to get us to listen so intently to sound that is ultimately spread so much further apart than so much of what’s out there…there’s much more identity in the music of Forest Robots than you might even give’em credit for in a first impression, but believe me when I say, the more you dig into the catalog, the more you’ll recognize how the spiritual sound entirely ties it all together.

To finish Amongst A Landscape Of Spiritual Reckoning, you’ll find “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” at the very end.  A strong conclusion, you can feel the weight of this last experience instantly find a way into the atmosphere as the song begins…the invitational warmth so often found in the music of Forest Robots takes a complete backseat for a moment here, and has us cautiously listening as a result.  It’s almost as if you can feel the swirl of menace & mischief in the air…and all-around, there’s no question about the fact that this last track will bring a whole different vibe to the last moments of this new record…that normal beauty we experience is still here, but more twisted into a mysterious design, offering us one last transition in the sound of the record before it’s all over.  I’d be interested in what moved Fran in this direction…and just as interested in how he perceives the sound & fit of this song on the new record over the course of time.  As it stands, it fits – but almost oddly more on the fringe than even “Always The Tallest Mountain To Climb Resides Within You” did earlier on, even though I’d fully stand behind that actually having a much closer sound to the record than this final track seems to have.  But this could be, and likely is, all projection & perception…so much of listening to the music of Forest Robots is…when we listen, we internalize by default, everything we listen to…and apply that to our own lives, or how we see the world.  Maybe hearing more of a darker vibe consume the sound of “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” actually says more about me than it does about Fran in writing everything I have here…you’ll have to judge that for yourselves.  Regardless of all that – “A Weak Mind Will Never Defeat A Strong Soul” is still more than welcome to my ears – like I’ve been saying from the drop here, where Fran’s music goes, I’m always willing to follow.  As a fan of Forest Robots, I’m stoked about what I hear – and as a fan of the ambient genre overall, I’m stoked even more.