Southeast Engine – From the Forest to the Sea
Record Label: Misra Records
Release Date: February 17, 2009
Our story begins in a misty forest. Our story begins in a 19th century middle school. Our heroes dance and play anxiously in the haze. Our heroes wail into reels and reels of analog tape. Our tale is ancient. Our tale is modern. Our tale is timeless.
Recorded in the dust of history on an aching wooden stage, Southeast Engine’s From the Forest to the Sea creaks and moans appropriately. The band has toiled for years to cast new light on analog recording and their latest effort is an honorable homage. Five days in an abandoned middle school during the sweaty summer of Ohio produced a paradoxical anachronism, an album that feels as lost in time as its characters are within their fantasy land. Fuzzy guitars purr, organs bellow, and vocals are exuberant and pleasantly off-key at times. It’s true testament to the whimsical nostalgia of lo-fi.
From the Forest to the Sea opens with a trifecta of tunes centered in the forest’s heart. Vocalist Adam Remnant cries about mysterious ceremonies and ghostly maidens as we’re thrust into the thick of his wandering story. Thematically, the album roves from life’s secrets to family values to religious uncertainty. Fortunately, each tune carries with it the rusty sheen of analog recording as drums plod agreeably and harmonies are practically hollered. It’s also hard to pin a musical label on South Engine’s lapel. “Two of Every Kind” threatens adultery with minor chords, “Black Gold” grooves with persistent rock, and “Easier Said than Done” deals in peppy, easy going folk. Paces alternate from speedy to a crawl in the space of a few tracks. One of the album’s strongest tunes is found in the confusion of “Law-Abiding Citizen.” Its raw, questioning frustration melds easily with slow, ambling riffs and echoing pianos. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Malconte” pushes feverishly into distorted guitars that match Remnant’s frizzy vocals.
Throughout most of From the Forest to the Sea, the rough-edged music is enough to distract from the album’s bewildering content. There are places, though, where this isn’t quite the case, especially towards the end (?) of the story. “Preparing for the Flood” and “Sea of Galilee” are tired and anonymous enough that by the time the album closer comes along, it’s hard to really appreciate it. Some pruning of this dead wood could have made a world of difference in the long run.
Though it is a bit too sparse and wishy-washy at times, From the Forest to the Sea offers a narrative vision and musical intelligence that suits its analog approach quite brilliantly. It’s a disorienting journey, but it’s that very characteristic that defines it.