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Solstice: Future of Forestry’s Advent Journey
Artist: Future of Forestry
Label: Independent
Time: 2 Hours

Towards the end of the documentary section of this DVD, front-man Eric Owyoung comments, “Future of Forestry has never fitted into the category of secular music, Christian music, worship music or non-worship music,” adding that it is a “beautiful collision of people and music and art in a way that is deeper than any of us could ever ask for.”

That says so much about why they have such a unique, chilled and atmospheric sound. He also notes that he has learned to see God working in their music more as he takes himself less seriously and lets the music do its job.

This DVD captures the spirit of the band and gives a healthy chunk of Christmas concert video. Coming in three parts, it features 37 minutes of advent concert footage; 53 minutes tracing the end of a Christmas tour; and 29 minutes of working on the Travel EPs (including some al fresco unplugged performance).

The documentary puts across the feel of the band, with snatches of their philosophy, introductions to the players’ characters, and cameos of them goofing around, but not too self-indulgently. It could be scaled down by ten minutes, but it rarely drags, and many fans will be happy to get the maximum backstage coverage. And if you want to see "Amazing Grace" played on a saw, you now know where to look...

Future of Forestry’s original approach to Christmas music shows as soon as the concert begins with two trombones and vibes setting a mood over Owyoung’s picked Telecaster riff. Cello, trombone, harmonium and vibes are not mere bolt-ons to the Future of Forestry sound, but an integral part of it. Bands often use live shows to give their songs extra pace and edge, but the Christmas songs here are slower and more moody, which helps to catch the wonder of the season.

I’m still not sure how well the arrangement of "What Child is This?" works. It is plain bad singing to take breaths in the middle of lines, but Owyoung almost makes up for it with the strength of his vocals in the chorus.

"The First Nowell" is sumptuous, with a simple, understated harmony that is just right for the tune. They play the whole song straight with picked acoustic guitar and cello. In a great piece of Forestry sound, it flows directly into "O Holy Night," which begins with just cello and bowed Les Paul, creating a rich, deep stream for the song to float along on. When it needs a surge, the twin trombones and vibes return, before it builds again with some guitar-work reminiscent of "Where the Streets Have No Name" and finally fades gently away.

The band is very good at picking the right instruments for the right song, so after a few largely percussion-free pieces, they go into "Little Drummer Boy,"  ending it with a three-minute drum quintet. Everyone seems to be doing this live at the moment, and it is very impressive at the venue, if less so on DVD.

This set, which is constantly washed in sweeping blue light, has a teasing quality. It is enlightening to watch the band produce this unique sound live without de-mystifying the magic of their style. However, there is not quite enough of it. It would have been nice to get either a Travel II track live on stage somewhere in the package, or another carol or three.

There is a little more live material on the Travel section, which largely covers jamming, and recording the eponymous EPs, along with some commentary. About a third of it is open air performance of Travel II songs by Owyoung and T J Hill, including one piece under a bridge that finds the duo using harmony vocals, harmonium, xylophone, guitar and guitar case. This documentary also reveals Forestry’s strong percussive heart.

Artistically directed at times, with some striking lighting, geometry and definition, the DVD gently pulses with the steady heartbeat of the band and is more suitable for all-year viewing that its title suggests. While there is plenty of music interspersed with the informative documentary, it still leaves quite a hunger for more on-stage footage.

Derek Walker

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