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Travel II (EP)
Artist: Future of Forestry
Label: Credential EMI/CMG (I presume - CDR)
Time: 6 Tracks / 24 mins

When reviewing Future of Forestry’s striking Twilight album elsewhere, I remember remarking that it was the best Christian-label release for many months. This disc has got me similarly excited. Although I have only caught the bulk of Travel I online, Travel II has impressed me enormously, and in every respect. If any of these songs is filler then the Arctic is full of tigers. Each track is its own person, yet there is a special feel that unifies them all and they blend like a title-winning sports team. What they share is partly an acoustic vibe, strong stick-like percussion overlaid with a bell-like, ringing glockenspiel, and the pleasing timbre of lead man Eric Owyoung’s vocals.

Having studied voice leading at Boston University, his sensitivity to layers and parts, and his arrangements in general, are a large part of what makes this disc so special. Everything has its place, a raison d’être, and a considered effect on the whole sound. The travel concept has come from Owyoung realising that “life here is, in essence, varying spaces that we travel through.” The first in the series was about air travel, and this is about sea travel; but both include that sense of journeying through life.

The very title of “Hills of Indigo Blue” hints at the impressionistic nature of the band’s approach, and the song itself is driven by a delicious melody that throws its arms open wide as it invites you to join in.

Although “Holiday” is quite conventional, with a punchy electric riff and big chorus, it is probably the only non-contender for strongest cut. Even so, its hook is typical of this disc, which is easy to play four or five times on the trot. That says something for the quality of its songwriting and production.

When “Set Your Sails” reaches its post-chorus it evokes a ship breaking through the surf, drums crashing like waves on the prow. It is one that particularly captures a sense of journeying through life,:

Set your sails upon the mighty winds of May
Set your sails upon the hope of June
Set your sails upon the air of warm July
Set your course for Heaven’s shore
Although it is a close call with the songs that bookend the disc, my personal top track is probably “Slow Your Breath Down.” This is another that has guitar-free verses set against a keyboard drone and propelled by drums until the glockenspiel and guitar respectively tinkle and burst out on the chorus. Then comes God’s intimate invitation to return to innocence:
If you leave I’ll still be close to you when all your fears rain down
I’ll take you back a thousand times again; I’ll take you as my own
I would sing you songs of innocence ’til the light of morning comes
‘Til the rays of gold and honey cover you in the sweetness of the dawn
But you’re always on the run
You’re not alone; you’re now a part of me
You feel the cure; I’ll feel the toil it brought you

Hinted at on the post-chorus in “Holiday” (as well as on the previous EP) the overlapping Muse/Radiohead influence becomes blatant in “So Close So Far,” where the vocals follow a minor key descent and the guitar is delicately picked over some impatient percussion.

Another contender for best track and not available for streaming at the website, closing piece “Someday” has plaintive vocals set against a late Talk Talk treated guitar as it talks about the future. Towards the climax, the bass gets chunkier, strong keyboards swell, bells clang and a Theremin dances over the top. This is as beautifully epic as independent music gets. Highly recommended.

Derek Walker 

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