Letters to the Farthest Star is an audio documentary looking at the sources of Forrest Fang’s musical inspirations and following the waterway of his career. I use the word waterways because whenever I listen to Fang’s music I find that I feel like I am being taken by boat along the river in some exotic landscape—humid and overgrown, shrouded in tree leaves that dangle over slowly moving water—and that I am headed for someplace that is somehow more honest and genuine, a village, a place that still rings with the sound of folk songs and their stories and their truth. It comes from the way in which Fang has embraced the simplicity of old-world instrumentation and makes it not just an accent to an electronic album, but really quite the other way around. We make music first with our hands and our breath and our soul, and that is what is at the core of Forrest Fang’s work. Letters… is rich with eastern strings, along with their western cousins. Violin and mandolin cross paths with the Chinese gu-zhang and Turkish cümbüş, and the sound overall is organic and intense. The four-piece suite, “The Unreachable Lands,” which opens the disc, would be worth the price of admission alone. Fang modulates the ride wonderfully here. The first part, “Sunsail,” is a big, string-driven thing with forceful rhythms that pulse into you. “Song of the Camel” dials it back to an ambient hush that glides past and gives way to the folk-inspired “Water Village.” There’s an exuberance to it, brought in by a bright, singing string melody, and it picks up a cool walking undercurrent on a bassline that gives it a pleasant stride. It’s the bustle of a working village, the moving and weaving and being in the moment. Sonic imagery at its finest. “Hermitage” reminds me of Tim Story’s ambient chamber work. Piano takes the lead, backed in misty washes and a quiet assist from guitarist Jeff Pearce. At this juncture the disc is less than halfway done, but trust me—it will own you by this point. And it continues to engage. “Burnt Offerings,” it will not surprise you to learn, is the disc’s foray into a darker space. This is where the cümbüş takes the front. For an instrument whose name translates to “fun,” it delivers a truly somber feel at first, notes picking slowly across an ambient wash. This track blossoms out, picking up pace and turning into a dance with a touch of ritual at the edges. Fang cuts it off in favor of an ambient flow while the drama of that dance is still coursing in your veins. “Fossils” works like a minimalist piece, with chord pulses on a stringed instrument reverberating into harmonic drones. The violin that leads the way on “Seven Coronas” has a beauty that has quite literally stopped me in my tracks. There have been moments in my repeated review listens where I have the album on and this sound arises, and I just stop whatever I’m doing to give it my full, soul-level attention. It’s stunning.
Letters to the Farthest Star is one of those releases that almost seem pointless to write about. Its beauty and masterful construction are apparent from the first moments, and from there is hold is pleasantly unrelenting. It is deeply layered, filled with small sounds and moments, and has the ability to leave listeners breathless more than once. The balance of organic and electric is perfectly nudged over in favor of the organic, and that informs the piece’s overall truth. This is Forrest Fang taking stock of his career and inviting us to listen as he does. Lush, exotic, enthralling, and an absolute must-own release.
Available from Projekt.