Anyone familiar with Leafcutter John’s astounding previous album The Housebound Spirit (Planet µ) will realise how far he’s come since his first experimental electronic releases. On this new CD, he takes the songs from that album one step further — in fact, the main body of the album is morose folk ballads, so authentic they’re almost classical. Folk revivalists like Akron/Family are inevitably called to mind, or indeed quieter Radiohead. If you’ve heard his (at the time quite unexpected) remix of Nettle (“The Ballad of Jimmy Hollin is More Awkward Than That”) you’ll know what’s in store.
There are some utterly beguiling moments on this album, beautiful processed guitar textures, field recordings, cut’n’paste cello… “Let It Begin” sets the tone, starting acoustic and colla voce, but lone cymbals and low rumbles lead into an extended middle section of granular delays and electronic pulses before returning to the song anew. “Seba”, on the other hand, starts with piano and drones under lovely acoustic guitar textures, and seamlessly mutates via some slide guitar into something almost alt-country, vocals underpinned by bass, guitars and very subtle kick/snare. It’s the best song on the album, and the sound palette suits it perfectly; when glitchy delays and abstract washes return, it seems totally normal, and the strange spectre of early-to-mid Pink Floyd benignly asserts itself, as it does over a surprising amount of the recent postrock/folk stuff.
Much of the rest of The Forest and The Sea works in a similar manner (although there are one or two straight electro-acoustic pieces and one or two relatively untouched songs), and it’s fascinating to hear how the disparate elements are integrated (or not). Leafcutter John works in a way not quite like anyone else, and it’s well worth checking out whether your preference is for Oren Ambarchi or Tunng.