Forest Law
Photo: Bongo Joe

Forest Law Debut ‘Zero’ Has Worldly Finesse

At the center of Forest Law’s Zero is his versatile guitar work, through which he variously evokes bossa nova, classic funk, and psychedelic folk.

Forest Law
Bongo Joe / Total Refreshment Centre
14 June 2024

From its first chords, Forest Law’s full-length debut, Zero, feels like an open sea swim. There’s a warmth to even its most solitary moments, a fundamental sense of connection through something far more dynamic than land. The music ripples from every touch, catching natural light and bouncing it in every direction to build an aural experience as capable of refreshing as dazzling. The Forest Law approach comes across here as something boundless but refined, taking in the whole of the inspiring world and then polishing anything that resonates just enough to shine without losing its organic charm. It’s a demonstration of a heart and mind in creative harmony, a gently engaging album from start to finish that never holds too still.

Forest Law, the moniker of Alexander Burke, makes music that is blessedly difficult to categorize. At the center of Zero, in many cases, is his versatile guitar work, through which he variously evokes bossa nova, classic funk, and psychedelic folk. It’s a guitar that, at its most acoustic, sounds both the opening and closing of the album, lulling us into wistful “Difficulties” alongside equally soothing flute and voice with the ease of a tropical sunrise and providing the titular effect in the finale “Balm”. In between, it adds a lyrical urgency to tracks like “Parece” and “Alarm Bells”, kicks off nu-disco grooves on “Niceties” and “Service”, and drives forward all kinds of other moods along the way, making it a key conduit for the record’s considerable affective power. It’s a solid foundation. 

As Burke works outward from this base, Zero becomes truly luscious, each piece embellished with countless little touches of genius. Take “Timbre”, where the soulful voice of Momoko Gill supplements Burke’s tight verses on their way over rolling currents of guitar and bass, past subtle flourishes of glowing piano to an arresting end as Gill holds her final notes in an otherwise silent space. It’s an interesting contrast to, for example, the equally complex “Why You Lied”, an emotional meshwork of relatable pop lyrics, looping flutes, wah pedals, and carefully planned structure culminating in a moment of kaleidoscopic bliss that carries the song’s last minute on synthesized strings.

Later, “Til The?” begins with bell-like keyboards and a Japanese spoken word section from singer-songwriter Ami Koda that quickly gains momentum as guitar, percussion, and thoughtful horns gradually join in. Koda’s energy rises almost to a fever pitch before dissipating, leaving the other instruments to clamor to a stop in her wake.

Recorded in Portugal, Iceland, Japan, and Burke’s native England, Zero sees Forest Law working with a cohesively eclectic palette and making it sound easier than it can possibly be. Everything comes together in a way that sounds as natural as indie pop can; even at its fullest, the Forest Law sound values light and space, which puts technique and worldliness on display but never at the expense of balance and enjoyment. Zero is a promising debut that indicates even more painstakingly arranged variety ahead for Forest Law.

RATING 8 / 10