Mute Forest: Deforestation
Lost Tribe Sound

Mombi member Kael Smith didn't choose his Mute Forest moniker randomly, and neither was the choice of Deforestation as an album title a matter of happenstance. Smith's childhood home, you see, is in the Rockies of Colorado, and he also wrote and recorded the album at his home studio in Denver. Apparently the nature symphony he absorbed as a youth within the forest near his home has grown muted due to the decimation wrought by Mountain Pine Beetles, a development that repeatedly brought one word to mind as he created the material: deforestation.

Such background detail might lead one to think that the tone of the recording must be depressing. Admittedly, the Mute Forest persona Smith presents on the nine-song collection isn't what one would call joyous, but the music on Deforestation isn't unrelentingly despairing either—even if the first words out of Smith's mouth are “I lie by your grave...” On this full-length follow-up to his Mute Forest debut EP Infinity Pools, Smith opts for an intimate brand of crepuscular songcraft, one with strong connections to folk, micro-ambient, and electronic forms and earmarked on six songs by the hushed murmur of his distinctive delivery.

While the vocal styles of Benoît Pioulard and Mute Forest aren't identical, the sonorous similarities between them are evident enough to make the idea of grouping them in some way seem natural. On instrumental grounds, the delicate crackle and slow-motion pulse of a track such as “Automatism” suggests that another kindred spirit to Mute Forest might conceivably be Ezekiel Honig, and Smith integrates real-world sounds into an instrumental setting such as “I Will Never Fully Remember the Way” in a texturally sensitive manner that's characteristically Honig-like.

Certainly the opening title track evokes the quiet mystery of a forest setting. In this case, Smith's whisper feels like it's drifting phantom-like through the trees, with a cricket's near-subliminal chirp appearing alongside a hypnotic, dubby beat pulsation and electric guitar shadings. Meditative instrumentals such as “Vine Covered Windows and Doors” and “Distracted by my Contorted Reflection” perpetuate the haunted, late-night mood of the vocal tracks, with skeletal beats, piano, guitar, and synthetic textures fusing into gently lilting wholes that evoke nocturnal woodland settings all by their lonesome.

Without question, Smith's articulation of the Mute Forest sound is coherent and the presentation of mood and style consistent. If there's a downside to the album, it's that in a perfect world the range of emotion conveyed by the vocals would be broader. Yes, the whispered delivery is effective, but it also begins to feel limited when it varies so little from one song to the next. In fact, when an angelic choir surfaces alongside him on the closing song “From God, To Kane, To Seth,” the addition of a different vocal sound arrives like a breath of fresh air. On a final note, Lost Tribe Sound always takes great care in the presentation of its releases, and Deforestation is no exception. Mastered for vinyl by Taylor Deupree, the album is housed in a heavy-duty gatefold sleeve that any artist would be proud to hold in his/her hands.

November 2015