Album Reviews

Jeff Parker: Forfolks – “a tone and language that is truly his own”

The Tortoise guitarist releases his second album in as many years.

Tortoise guitarist, Jeff Parker, returns late in 2021 with his follow-up to last year’s sensational Suite For Max Brown with Forfolks.

While Suite For Max Brown was a sprawling ambient fusion of jazz, blues and hip-hop, with Forfolks, Parker retreats into the world of intimacy. Much like Steve Gunn’s Other You, Forfolks is Parker’s “L.A. record”, and it’s no surprise the pair are currently touring together in the United States.

There’s little doubt that Parker’s subtle intricacies underpin the incongruous framework of Tortoise, and on Forfolks that aesthetic really shines through. An album a little too easy on the ear to be classified as purely experimental, yet too left-of-centre to be described as conventional, Forfolks sees Parker blurring the lines and parameters with something that is completely his own.

Recorded in single takes, Forfolks is a series of tiny guitar loops, as Parker gets meticulous in the art of brevity. Stretching single notes, Parker amalgamates soft, juddering drones with the kind of ambient hiss that drifts beneath the surface like fog in a underground tunnel. In fact, it’s these ambient soundscapes which are Forfolks’ backbone and the results wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective without them.

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Parker shape-shifts through far-out places, skirting the fringes of jazz, blues and hip-hop, using these influences in complex ways by creating multi-layered panoramic sounds.

Jeff Parker - Forfolks

There’s no better example of this than Parker’s reinterpretation of Thelonious Monk’s Ugly Beauty. One minute, Parker is seemingly in the corner of a fancy restaurant carving out soft tones to accompany a romantic dinner for two, only to then retreat into the nervous milieu of a near-bare basement.

From the wiry arpeggios of Off Om and Suffolk, to the noodling title track and dream-state atmospherics of Flour of Fur, it’s hard to pinpoint Forfolks’ standout moment. It’s a record best consumed whole, but having said that, it’s with Excess Success that encapsulates Parker’s ideas the best; his jazz influences whittled down to a brevity akin to the perfect short story or poem.

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It’s these moments where Parker scrupulously plots every last second committed to tape where we get down to the nuts and bolts of his achievements here. If anything, it has you reaching back for a Tortoise record.

While it darts in between the aforementioned styles and genres, Forfolk doesn’t sound like any of them. The production methods and Parker‘s gentle playing are something truly unique.

Bruce Springsteen once said that his aim was to “make the guitar talk”. On Forfolks, Parker does that, too, but in a tone and language that is truly his own.

Forfolks is out now via International Anthem. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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