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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Go to the Leafcutter John website  Leafcutter John - The Forest and The Sea [Staubgold - 2006]

Leafcutter John aka John Burton is a member of UK avant-jazz outfit Polar Bear where he adds his field recordings and electronic touches to their modern sound. The Forest and the Sea is second solo album and is far removed from anything he has done with the jazz group. No saxophones and very little drumming, the album lurks in that area that has been given the unfortunate title of Folktronica. Pointless categorisations aside this is an intriguing and beguiling record.

Let it begin is the first track and the first words spoken by Burton on the album. Rumbling electronic drones and processed acoustic guitar are followed by Burtons slightly nasal but quite pleasant vocal stylings. His melodic vocals seem to follow some sort of narrative about nature and the environment which  are augmented well by backing vocals and cello.
Maria in the forest is one of the several musique concrete and field recordings tracks on the album. It features recordings of children playing, water, horses walking on stones, and more sounds from the environment.  One of my favourite instruments the Harmonium also makes an appearance before cymbals and a groove laden guitar join the mix as the track takes a turn into lounge like folk territory.
Five and a half minutes through the atmosphere changes again and the electronic drones and harmonium take over finishing the track off in dissonant and noisy fashion.

The next three tracks are a triplet of pieces titled Dream 1-3. The first of them begins like a sun kissed afternoon in spring, all lazy guitar chords and slow vocals, oddly enough im reminded of some of Radioheads acoustic moments ala OK Computer.  The sounds of cicadas and low drones begin Dream II which is an almost Pierre Henry style concrete collage that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nurse With Wound or  Luc Ferrari album. It throws all sorts of musical curveballs at you before nicely leading into Dream III which is a lovely folk song with Burton alone on guitar before being joined by piano, electric bass and Alice Grant on backing vocals. Burton really does this sort of mellow folk music very well, and it would most likely appeal to fans of Current 93s recent output.

By the time the album reaches Go back it has moved into an almost pastoral mode where notes seem to linger in the air above mists of harmonium, drone and electronic mastery. Seba is a ghostly piano led track that just seems to drift along with the occasional fragment of guitar or music box tinkle floating across the surface. Burton moves through so many styles on this album each worthy of their own full length exploration. The final track now is probably the most evocative of all, beginning with recordings of waves lapping against a shore, before cello, electronics, crackling tension and shafts of melody
distort the scene,  before long the pastoral folk returns with piano, handclaps and Burtons superb multi-tracked vocals. There is a lovely melody line where he sing about wings sprouting along your torso lifting you up to the beyond. The imagery of The Forest and The Sea is one of it’s best features. Combine that with superb but simple musicality and some surprising electronic cocktails and you have one of the years most unique records.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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