The Forms: Icarus

[16 October 2003]

By Kevin Jagernauth

I’m just going to cut right to the chase—the Forms, with their stunning debut effort, Icarus, are one of the most exciting, if not one of the best, new acts in indie rock right now. Imagine, if you will, the emotional sweep of Sunny Day Real Estate with the tightrope math rock antics of Shellac and you might get an idea of what the Forms are bringing to the table.

An ambitious, calculated effort, Icarus is seven songs over ten tracks (the first three tracks each have two “movements”) clocking in at around eighteen minutes. However, nothing about this feels pretentious and, contrary to the brief running time of this “full length”, Icarus feels nothing short of epic.

Like all well-kept secrets, the Forms themselves prefer to be shrouded in mystery. The gorgeous three-panel digipack, complete with a glossy, photography-laden booklet, fails to include any lyrics or even to mention the names of the band’s members. Preferring to let the Steve Albini-led production do the talking, the Forms are speaking volumes.

“Stel” kicks things off with soaring, perfectly pitched vocals guided by a beautifully complex, open-tuned rhythm guitar line. It then moves nicely into its second “movement”, in which the vocals become punctuated by yells and are sung slightly off key to eerie effect. “Sunday” finds the band in more melodic territory. The incredible bass line weaves a beautiful tapestry against which the vocals simply shimmer as the guitars playfully tease their way through the song. However, the Forms’ finest turn on Icarus is the piano-driven “Stravinsky”. On what is perhaps the most conventionally structured song on the album, the band opts for a verse/chorus setup and in turn delivers a not-quite emo track that ups the ante on anything Jeremy Enigk has done over the last few years. It’s stunning how moving “Stravinsky” is, with a running time of just under two minutes.

And it is the short running time that makes the Forms that much more impressive. It is unbelievable how many musical ideas they get across, and how utterly affecting they can be, in a whisper under twenty minutes. If Icarus were any longer it might be almost too clever for its own good. The Forms have extended math rock and emo to the next logical step. They are aggressive without being angry; complex yet accessible, while always sounding completely original. Moreover, Icarus is deliriously fun. The vocals lust to be sung along with and the intriguing, tightly knit instrumental web begs to be unraveled. Icarus demands repeated listening and becomes an increasingly rich album as the layers of these carefully written songs are slowly revealed.

Indie rock has become a stale affair of late, with lazy irony, ‘80s throwback, and ‘70s revival being the flavors of the day. Thus, it is that much more refreshing that although the Forms take their cues from the explosive scene of the mid to late ‘90s, they put in the work of deconstructing and carefully redefining it. Icarus is a tightly built, flawlessly executed affair and one of the best albums of the year. It is a reminder that rock music can be interesting and a pleasure at the same time.

As a final note, I was lucky enough to catch the band live at the Pop Montreal festival this weekend. The trio has grown to a quartet, and live, the band expands upon the CD’s songs, offering a different, equally exciting and explosive experience. New tracks find the group employing three part harmonies and even incorporating a Radiohead-esque ambient sample at one point, promising an interesting future from this compelling new band.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/forms-icarus/