Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Lonely Forest - We sing the body electric! Review

The Lonely Forest : We sing the body electric!

I first heard the name John Van Deusen nearly five years ago. He couldn't have been much older than sixteen, sharing the stage with only an electric piano, an acoustic guitar, and himself. The feeling of awe from the audience was visceral as he performed a collection of songs so finely crafted, and so marked by a sense of emotional maturity that you would have never expected them from someone so young.

By the time I saw him again the following summer, he had acquired a rhythm section and an electric guitarist, which transitioned into a band proper the following year. Joined by bandmates Eric Sturgeon, Braydn Krueger, and Tony Ruland, they became The Lonely Forest early in 2006 and quickly became an absolute powerhouse of the local indie community, releasing an EP and a full-length rock opera (!) in just under a year. "We Sing the Body Electric!" is The Lonely Forest's first album for their new label Burning Building Recordings (the label they share with fellow Anacortes residents The Oregon Donor).

Drawing its title from a Walt Whitman poem, a Ray Bradbury short story, an episode of The Twilight Zone, or all of the above, "We Sing The Body Electric!" kicks off with "Two Pink Pills", an ode to the sleep-inducing powers of Benadryl. Interestingly, the use of sleeping pills seems to be a recurring theme in the album. This song introduces us to a technique used to great effect throughout the album: the overdubbing of Van Deusen's voice into eerie two- or three-part harmonies. A terrific example of this occurs at the end of "Two Pink Pills", when at least two layers of Van Deusen's voice harmonically arrange themselves around the high pitched squeal of guitar feedback to form a three-note chord, before taking a slow slide downward in pitch.

This bizarre and beautiful experiment leads us straight into "Blackheart vs. Captain America" and "We Sing in Time", my two favorite tracks from the album. They're followed by the raucous "On To Something", a criticism of mass-production consumerism. This is the track where Braydn Krueger really shines as a percussionist. His talent lies in his ability to take what is otherwise pretty sparse instrumentally, and turning it into something that holds the attention.

The album hits a slow spot after this, which lasts for a few songs. At its very lowest points, "We Sing the Body Electric!" is just another solid Lonely Forest album. But low points are brief, and the music is for the most part top-notch. Quickly returning to form for its second half, the album never quite recaptures the magic of the first few songs, such as "We Sing in Time", but manages to excel anyway.

"Stick Upon Stick" illustrates Van Deusen's penchant for whimsy. "Life underwater is chilly and dim/ Behind the dam wall snakes a river of sin/ It's fast and it's thick but she'll never give in/ And down came her tail when the boy learned to swim".

The album is concluded by "Mt. Constitution". "Hope lies in the proles/ That's how they made you/ That's how they wanted you to be", a direct reference to George Orwell's 1984.

This is the strength of John Van Deusen's songwriting ability. He draws influence from the works of great literary minds from Friedrich Nietzsche to Joseph Heller. He blends antiquated science fiction imagery with philosophy, humor, and beauty against a backdrop of punkish energy in a way that makes him seem like just as much a Kurt Vonnegut as a David Bazan.

The result is an artful body of work that is sometimes profound, often surprising, and always enjoyable. It's the work of four young men are creating for themselves an unusually solid foundation for all their future success.

Reviewed by: Brenton William Brookings
Reviewed: 03.18.09
Photos credit: Marty Watson :

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