Release DetailsLABEL Lupus Lounge
RELEASED ON 8/13/2012
A Forest Of Stars
A Shadowplay For Yesterdays
posted on 8/2012 By:
I've never enjoyed strip joints. Sometimes I wonder how and why I'm wired this way, but it seems there's some shit that people are expected to love, things I reflexively resist. My particular synapse sequence means I'm quite stoked that my buddy chose his sister as best [wo]man, because instead of feigning interest in off-limits tits (“off-lim-tits”, perhaps?), I get to have fun for reals and watch live music. Although, a gentleman's club — that's something I could potentially get down with… especially if they made challenging heavy music, genre-pollenation was their game, and they professed to be ~100 years old. A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is not only the third release for the bastardizing Brits, but their first for Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions. It's also the best album yet from A Forest of Stars.
The enigmatic execution bears similarity to curiosities concocted by likewise-backwards-visionaries Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Lead vocalist Mister Curse still sounds as if he gargles with goddamned ghosts, emoting the kind of desperate abandon we remember from B in Lifelover (RIP to both the man and band) or Nils Frykdahl of the aforementioned SGM (RIP to just the band). When looking to their countrymen, perhaps the closest parallel is to Metatron from The Meads of Asphodel. At any rate, Curse is surprisingly more controlled than ever this time around, which is to say a hard-8-into-a-soft-9 on a 10-scale of madness. Man cannot exist by batshit insanity alone, and his restraint is commendable.
It could be Katheryne, Queen of Ghosts who's scaring up the spooks for acCursed consumption. I'll tell you one thing: if there's anything that elevates this album, it's her voluminous violin work. Most of my favorite tunes have (usually among other elements) a solid riff or two that embed in your head, and this is certainly true of “Prey Tell of the Church Fate” or “A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh”. The chick is a budding flutist as well, and her contributions may intensify further in time. None of this is to imply that she dominates the proceedings; quite the contrary, a masterful mix manages ample space for all parties, swinging to the forefront and pulling to the background as needed. Too frequently in the past did improper balance mar my enjoyment of older AfoS.
When retracing the back catalogue, the sticking point was usually Curse — who literally lived up to his namesake. It now feels as though he's not trying to shock; he simply does. And drumming duties by “The Resurrectionist” Mr. John Bishop feel less scattershot, more deadly intuitive. A large part of their overall effectiveness comes from the interplay within the band as an organic whole. Take “The Underside of Eden”, for example: A lilting piano from The Gentleman anchors; the pulsing bass from the very heart of Mr. Titus Lungbutter diligently drives; and Bishop’s manic percussion takes such bold, jazzy giant steps, you’d think his name was Art Taylor. There are maybe a handful of bands nowadays who consistently improve on this type of lofty artistic trajectory; shoot, only uneXpect comes to mind as I write this.
The eerie “I don't want to be left behind here” motif is chilling, especially as it recurs in the fuzzy static darkwave of album crossroad “Man's Laughter” — one of many clever wordplays found throughout ASfY. I also liked how the male protagonist is named “Carrion”, which creates a mutual relationship with a certain Miss Crow (both introduced in beautifully poetic intro “Directionless Resurrectionist”), but could also be interpreted as a double entendre with the phrase “carry on” …as though we, ourselves, implicitly implore him. Indeed, much is at play here.
Beyond pastoral, they get full-on rustic English countryside in the middle of “The Blight of God's Acre”, with serious digging in the dirt. There's something to be said about appropriate subtle sonic touches, and that something is THEY RULE and are the fucking x-factor when separating modern masters from doomed disasters. Bring forth the metal centrifuge, I say!
Also, I was gonna review the bonus tracks, but the more I hear them, the less they belong with the album itself. This normally wouldn't matter, but A Shadowplay for Yesterdays functions so well as a complete piece, anything more feels like an extraneous dessert after a sumptuous multi-course banquet. Admittedly, I don't know much about Clannad nor their covered track “Herne” here, but I recognized the almost-doubly-extended Bauhaus cover of “She's in Parties” (at 10:44!), which originally kicked off 1983's Burning from the Inside, and finds AFoS making their first foray into dub. Whether or not you seek out those two tracks, do experience “Dead Love” if you'd like a gentler letdown with a sweet Badalamenti-esque epilogue.
The video for “Gatherer of the Pure” is essential viewing for anyone, but especially those who are just now familiarizing themselves with the band, and plan on retro-exploration (as I did). Rarely is the ideal marriage of sight & sound achieved, and even less often does a video enhance understanding of the themes and compliment the overall aesthetic of not only the album, but the band on a grander scale.
I'm almost having trouble believing this is the same band that released Opportunistic Thieves of Spring. The prominent prog palms have been stretching skyward for a few years — but never has their grip been this strong, their gait this sure. ASfY may have even been an 8 originally, but its score has seen progressive growth over the past couple of weeks. Ask me how I like it in a month, and I may rate even higher. A shower and a grower with future classic status, A Shadowplay for Yesterdays is a must-hear from A Forest of Stars, doubtlessly the Gentleman's Club of choice for you.
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