Letters From A Forest uses snippets of conversation, sung and spoken lyrics, simple guitar and piano lines, and (as Christian puts it) fake strings, to create what we can call collage atmospherics. The sum of these parts is a tender sounding album, crammed full of romanticized lyrics with a tough, honest, edge and a wondrous stream of consciousness style. When hearing tracks like the "The Ballad of Martin and Caroline,"—a tale of fates deeply entwined in a doomed love spiral—I felt like I was half napping or jet lagged in a spare room, overhearing friends babbling to one another about deceased acquaintances,musical heroes, old records,chance meetings, and the places where it all happened. As such, Letters is an ode to an array of magnificent and magnificently flawed people (some well known, others characters from local legend). It is a sketchbook of notes, more poetic than pathetic, with a palpably emotional tug, celebrating the contradictory nature of life.
David Christian has been issuing records for a couple of decades or more, mostly as the group Comet Gain (which seems to have existed in an alternate reality close and concurrent to mine, but totally invisible to me), yet much of his music feels like bumping into an old friend and picking up exactly with whatever you were talking about years ago. This release hits with a wave of happy/sad reflection, full of understated emotion and unflinching humor. A highlight among many is "The Ballad of Terry Hall," a heartbreaking ode to the fallen deadpan Specials frontman—also appreciating Martin Duffy from Felt (and one or two others) along the way. Here is an unabashedly enthusiastic appreciation of music and also of being oneself however strange, shy, or weird that may be. Christian illuminates the flip side, too: the undertone of serious melancholy which no one escapes in this life. He clearly has the life experience to sound off the cuff while reeling off detailed evocations of people in a style both nostalgic and unflinchingly frank, and he grasps the minor yet essential paradox of how certain dead end jobs are a fertile breeding ground for sparks of creativity, dreams of stardom, addiction, delusion, theft, and humor.
Examples of the sound and lyrical content: "You Know (With John McKeown)" has the subterranean twang of Phantom Payn Days. "Ribbons For Mickey" celebrates the short life of a bristling local character, with a scar over his eye, "from fighting NF skins* after a Madness gig, but his sister said he fell off a piano stool when he was a kid." Elsewhere, odd rhythms surface. There is a metallic slap to "She Had Sinister Hands" and a tropical twist on "Squirrel Beach Sundown." At times the pace picks up, which adds contrast, but I think mainly because it's the flow, and Christian always goes with it in a very endearing one-take warts and all style.
The sparkling "Someone's Home But Not Mine" has a cosmic feel, and also resembles those times when the computer has opened a separate track to the one you're listening to and the combination sounds great. That sense is a constant here, as tracks echo and bleed over into other tracks in an unpredictable way with speech, strings and plonking keys going back and forth like people answering questions that haven't been asked. On "All My Diaries At Once," David Christian says "you can't talk to your past" but this record is a brilliant kaleidoscopic meditation on his.
*National Front skinheads