Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Indie Music: Chris Forte, "Backyard Astronomy"

 by Germar Derron

Backyard Astronomy is the sonic equivalent of an academic degree in music. No, listeners will not walk away four years later with a piece of paper, wedding gigs, and students. But here, Chris Forte does mimic four years of musical exploration and progression. The tracks represent a journey through genres, regions, and eras.

Forte touches at least six different genres here, but the project could probably be divided fairly into equal and opposing halves. Half of the album could be a jazz combo, recorded live. And that would be a "jazz" combo in the broadest sense: skilled and educated musicians having fun with various genres, standards, tempos, and rhythms. That half of the album sounds rough, raw, and unpolished--mirroring the experience of a combo playing at a recital, coffeehouse, bar, or lounge.

The other half of the album sounds just a tad smoother and more polished. It might be called educated easy-listening or elevated elevator music. And I mean easy-listening and elevator music in the most complimentary ways. These tracks would work anywhere, for any audience. And that ubiquity does not diminish the obvious talent, skill, and musical IQ. Even on this more universal half, Backyard Astronomy remains a scholarly pursuit, and without pretentiousness.

By including the titles "Covidy Blues" and "Quarantine Coronatones," Forte does not conceal the album's impetus. And pieces of it do recall that period where we all dusted off our horns and keys and wondered and worried about the future. But these aural reminders here are somehow not accompanied by angst or melancholy. These pieces bring a sense of peace and relaxation. 

If peace, relaxation, jazz, funk, easy listening, and free education are your turn-offs--"wait, there's more!" Despite its title, "Messed Up World" may be the most hopeful and overall pleasant sounding and inspiring song to come out of the 2020 pandemic. Then later, "Baby Steps" defines cinematic. It's the spy movie worldwide conspiracy theme that 2022 needs.

At any other time in our history, I might call this uneven or inconsistent. But today, we get this. It perfectly parallels the past two years, while always looking up and ahead, with hope.


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