Black Forest/Black Sea
Forcefields and Constellations
eaving the Iditarod name and its singer behind, the duo of Jeffrey Alexander and Miriam Goldberg formed Black Forest/Black Sea in its wake. The results of the newly formed group were first released in a now sold-out self-titled record on the Secret Eye label last year. The record mixed the cello of Goldberg and the guitar and banjo work of Alexander into a far freer sound than the composed psych of Iditarod’s compositions, establishing the group as a force within in the nascent free folk underground scene.
This, their second album, treks much of the same territory as the debut opting to hone the sound already achieved to a finer point. To do this the group has stretched even further into the two different modes of songwriting that define them: improvisation and traditional folk music. It’s an interesting move to separate the two so strongly. And one that yields mixed results.
“I’m in Love”, for example, makes its way with a hesitant gait, eternally unsure of itself and its repeated melodic figure. Recorded live, it’s a hauntingly brief piece and one that works exceptionally well, melding cello easily with squiggles and pops of unknown origin. “…with a Dead Man I Never Met” follows it, sounding far more ordered, containing a repeated guitar line throughout much of the song’s length. This rhythmic base allows the duo to improvise over, under and around it making for interesting listening, but oftentimes listening that does little to engage.
This is more than made up for, however, in the next song (“Fish No Fish”) which, with the inclusion of Goldberg’s voice, demands attention throughout. It, once again, utilizes a stumbling guitar to strong effect. The album closer is much the same, sans Goldberg’s vocals. It moves slowly and carefully, building a strong drone that drives the album to its close. It’s a spectral (and spectacular) conclusion.
There are complaints to be made, however. Many of the tracks here were recorded live, giving the album an added incoherency to its already eclectic musical offerings. This slapdash approach to the recording and construction of an album possibly could be financially related. It hardly makes sense otherwise.
Additionally, when the group does veer towards more obviously composed loops and pre-recordings the results are frequently less satisfying. It might have been advisable to focus more on one mode than the other, rather than switching back and forth between the two.
But, that’s sometimes the point of this burgeoning underground scene of independent musicians: confounding expectations and mixing free and folk freely without regard for the connotations of either. As such, the group has succeeded, at the very least, in making a consistently listenable and intriguing second album. It’ll be more interesting, though, to see where they head to next.