It seems some people are born on a creative fault line. That’s not to say that they, or what they do are defective, but rather like the volcanoes that sprout up above rifts in the earth’s crust, some people just seem to have an unfathomable reserve of creative juice that flows up like lava through their music. One such is Michael Feuerstack, who seems to be a one man Canadian music industry, a restless soul with various bands on the go simultaneously. By my own hasty reckoning he has released (or is part of) at least a dozen albums over the last decade alone, which is probably only half of the story, but since 2013, he’s been releasing them under his own name and The Forgettable Truth is the third such release and heavens! Is this good, or what?
If Michael Feuerstack is something of a discovery then I’m glad the connection has finally been made. I can’t speak for all of his output, simply because I haven’t heard it all, but The Forgettable Truth has the whiff of genius about it. Whilst that word can be cast around far too casually, I think the genius of records like this is to show us how the clever and pleasure can happily coexist. Just to get things straight, I’m not claiming any special intellect for myself here as, “Must try harder,” still reverberates to this day. But I’d liken listening to this for the second and third and fourth and fifth times to my teenage self-discovering Eno. The pretty, the profound, the playful and poetic joined the dots and a much bigger picture emerged in the mind’s eye, like looking down a kaleidoscope while somebody gives it an extra twist.
Of course such comparisons aren’t especially helpful, given that Eno and Michael sound very different, although both can sometime hover around a slightly deeper vocal register than is usual and there’s something about the layering of melody too, but hopefully you get the point. Anyway, many of you will already know Michael under his Snailhouse moniker, so will be on familiar territory, while any Canadian’s tuning in may well be ahead of the curve already and urging a catch up.
As suggested above, Michael has several other projects on the go, although I can’t claim to be accurately informed on which are still current, Pietro Amato on keys and French horn shares Bell Orchestre and Luyas as other bands. Michael’s fans may also recognise the names Peter Xirogiannis on bass, and Mike Belyea on drums, but the combination of these three is new. Also involved are Sebastian Chow on, “Many violins,” and Nick Cobham and Lauren Sprengelmeyer on vocals. Where else they fit in Michael’s life isn’t really important, but they make up a crack team here.
The whole thing was tracked at Hotel2Tango studios in Montreal, with overdubs and mixing done by Michael at his home. It’s probably worth noting that amongst his many other musical endeavours, Michael is a producer, with one of our favourite albums from 2013, the debut from Paper Beat Scissors to his credit. It’s also worth highlighting that Feuerstack’s previous album Singer Songer featured a number of different vocalists all singing songs that Michael had written specifically for them. If nothing else it’s further indication of an artist who is pushing at both the form and function of the singer songwriter’s role.
The Forgettable Truth is a great title too, with some indication the meter of Michael’s mindset and although the individual song titles are largely relatively routine, each one is peppered with poetic detail. The opening lines of Receiver for example set the scene with, “I’m a taker receiver, I always get what I take,” before Michael chides, “You only take what they leave you, You get nothing if you keep that rate.” Musically the song has an easy gait, pushed along by a prominent bass line, hooked into a steady beat, with layers of guitars and arabesque keyboard fills, with the first hint of those many violins some nice harmony vocals too. It sounds so simply right.
Much of the album and indeed the following I Wanted More, operate within the same sonic parameters, but the melodic detail is finely woven and the more you listen the more you pick out little tendrils that start to entwine you. The music constantly pushes at the restraints and so Lamplight burgeons into a bit of a rocker with fuzzed up guitars. The opening lines once again are a cut above, “Love will get you high, But you have to burn it up.” Reflecting the musical course they’re laced with a vaguely psychedelic notion, which echoes into the mid section of We Walk By. It sounds somewhere between XTC and the blue-eyed soul of Matthew E White as the lyrics drift from, “There’s no trade publication, For what we really want to do,” to the repeated refrain of, “For what we really want to do now (Looking at the world turned upside down).”
There are interesting changes of pace too with Clackity Clack, for which we have already posted the video, slowing things down into a reverb drenched crawl. It dares us to slow down and consider the hubbub that surrounds us. As Michael sings, “Put some air into the sound, Put some sound into the air.” Is it all just noise? The answer seems to be, “Clackity clack.” The rich imagery continues as he sings, “But standing in a snowbank, He’s looking at the moon,” before asking us, “Listen closely is he howling, Or just whistling a tune?” By contrast The Devil is out of the traps like a motorik hare with the hounds of hell on its tail. There’s an ominous, giddy sense to, “All my life the devil had my love,” but as Michael also suggests, “Oh the flower the delicate flower brings the bees that sting.” It’s a potent rocker that stays just the right side of unhinged.
Slowing things right back down is Cemetery Trees, with an odd staccato beat that gives a peculiar, almost angular feel to the structure, which is nicely softened by electc piano and the use of the horn. Mother Tongue then returns to the more familiar sonic territory of the opener, with a shimmering melody and lashings of strings, until the heavy reverb of middle breakdown almost collapses in on itself. It also contains the gem, “Thoughts are crude, And the mouth is a refinery.”
Glacier Love, all low-lit, moody seduction, could well be the first song to stand out as a favourite as Michael intones, “Sweet licks be the major chord beneath my wings, When the beat skips we move on to better things.” With washes of slide guitar and swoops and plucks of strings it’s somewhere between grace and prowl. Slower still is the comparatively stripped back Talking Blues with the steady three count of the guitar keeping it rooted, but gradually releasing its grip as the song keeps threatening to fly. Blue Light pulls the same trick with a tight, circling riff that seems to slip a beat soothed once more by the horn, but throwing oblique images of talking birds and walking fish, before bringing us home with, “The mouthpiece with the disarming smile, The common thread the miracle mile, The song bird sings and we listen a while, Until we slip into tomorrow.”
That just leaves Monrovia, which as it happens is another absolute beauty and another early candidate for favourite. All of the signatures established at the start are here and you can’t help but marvel as the layers pile up, adding more melodic and harmonic depth. It also offers, “We started out enlightened and ended in the dark, We suffered for our art along the way.”
There is so much to this record, so much detail in the sound and so much thought and wisdom in the lyrics, yet all delivered with manifest ease. It’s beautifully played arranged and recorded and the more I listen, the more Michael sounds like an old friend. For every esoteric challenge he lays, there’s the sweet balm of melody to guide and hold you close while secrets are imparted, with that twist of the kaleidoscope to show you the hidden beauty within. A musical love affair has just begun.
Review by: Simon Holland
The Forgettable Truth is released on March 2nd via Forward Music Group
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