Many hold the belief that ambient music serves as arguably the epitome of musical inaccessibility, with the lack of vocals and concise melody requiring several attentive listens to wholly and memorably consume. It occasionally leads those to disregard the genre as a whole in substitution for more melodically identifiable styles, resorting to some styles of pop and rock as an exclusive alternative. However, what these people often ignore are the intricacies of the given genre. Quality ambient music is just like a classic novel or film; one discovers something new in terms of thematic relevancy, artistic ingenuity, or structural tendencies each time re-read or re-watched. This obviously does not apply to all artists in the respective niche, but patience and an attentive ear will surely reward those who choose to put forth an effort. The appeal of ambient music for those who steer their tastes toward the mainstream will obviously be limited, but I have found that most people who read this site have a very refined and open-minded taste. This is the primary reason why I chose to feature Our Sleepless Forest, a young trio who specializes in a variety of experimental genres, with ambient and post-rock being the most prevalent.
One of the reasons why I consider the independent music scene to be perfect for those with an open mindset is the acceptant nature it has toward genres of all kinds; quality is looked upon as quality and not much else. Whether you dwell in structurally predictable pop music or otherworldly experimental post-rock, audible excellence will find you a fan base. In the case of Our Sleepless Forest, I believe that their talent alone will speak volumes and propel their status past the hordes who regard the ambient genre as nothing more than background music to a David Lynch film. Their implementation of samples provided over subtly intricate instrumental arrangements often creates an emotionally empowering force, with sentiments like desolation, romance, and other perils of human nature expressed audibly without even providing a moment of lyrical insight. It hearkens back to the days of classical music, where emotional expression was the primary purpose for musicians (compared to modernistic terms where catchiness and financial benefits seem to be at the forefront). The three guys in Our Sleepless Forest share a similar mentality, with members Sam Purcell, Josh Rothberger and Karl Jawara expressing a form of avant-garde ingenuity on their debuting album that is nothing short of commendable.
Barely of legal drinking age, the trio met at school in South London and instantly found that they shared a common interest for the aspects of music production. They toyed around with a variety of software and basic recording equipment for over a year before emerging with material that they felt was of substantial enough quality to share. The result is a 45-minute debut spanning 8 tracks, all of which express the delicate ingenuity contained in Our Sleepless Forest’s sound. An early version of the breathtaking “The Tinderbox” caught the attention of Type Records, who included the track on their Free The Future compilation, eventually leading the band to a deal with Resonant Records. Impressively enough, the final version of “The Tinderbox” is even more fulfilling. Like all the tracks on Our Sleepless Forest’s self-titled debut, it is bursting with numerous layers of instrumentation that is enhanced by several unique methods of production. The sounds of intentional hissing and crackling are evident to an extent, but fortunately not enough to disrupt the instrumental focus that is provided by the ethereal strumming of an acoustic guitar, the subdued murmur of backing synths, and the slight frequency of weightless keys. Over a variety of sound effects produced by nature (birds chirping, blowing wind), vocals are subtly present, but they are used as an instrumental additive rather than the conventional lyrical usage. The wash-out effect is one instance of the trio’s innovative production techniques, with the unique use of panning also creating an enjoyably chaotic effect.
Our Sleepless Forest demonstrates confidence by opening up the album with “Nomads”, a sprawling and majestic track that is slightly reminiscent of Animal Collective’s epically instrumental nature. The bustling of synth pads and guitars are present in steadfast form during the song’s first several minutes. Eventually all instruments become subdued as the pad increases in velocity, uplifted in intensity by the murmur of a sitar and a variety of samples that depict a variety of sounds from ambiguous screeching to tribal chants. The conclusion is kicked off by the exotic shuffle of a percussion solo, with all the instruments compiled throughout the song making one final appearance as the song’s final minute proves to be a summation of all previous instrumental events. The serene “Doors In Limbo” is a great example of Our Sleepless Forest’s lighter side, employing a variety of string-like synth pads over the twinkling effect of several underlying keys. It manages to simultaneously capture beauty and elegance as the strings heighten in attentiveness as the track increases, eventually leading up to a remarkable change in key. It is arguably the most instrumentally linear track on Our Sleepless Forest, but the varied emotions it captures reminds me of the remarkable musicianship demonstrated by artists like Katsuhiko Maeda and Mogwai. If you are looking to get your fix of experimentally ambient psychedelia, Our Sleepless Forest have created a debut that is – so far – the best of the year in its respective genre.