It’s a good exercise for reviewers to avoid reading too much into press releases, lest they color one’s opinion going into a listening session (or even after a few spins). However, it’s hard to think of a better description for Philadelphia guitarist Chris Forsyth’s new disc than Tony Rettman’s, as he places it in the curious crosshairs of Television and The Grateful Dead. Forsyth is not only a creative modern guitarist and bandleader, but as with any instrumentalist worth their salt, also someone for whom the history of the axe is extraordinarily important and empowering. Thus, an array of influences both conscious and unconscious imbues Forsyth’s playing, from Tom Verlaine to Jerry Garcia, and onward into free-improvisation as charted by such guitar heroes as Sonny Sharrock, Richard Martin, and Ray Russell (not to mention Keith, Lou, Hendrix, et al.).
Solar Motel joins Forsyth with Brooklyn drummer Mike Pride (From Bacteria to Boys, Kalashnikov, Drummer’s Corpse), Kansas City keyboardist Shawn Edward Hansen, and electric bassist Peter Kerin on a four-part suite. Building on looped flecks, the first movement splays out into a huge, rotational desert-rock mass, Pride’s cowbell and trap-shimmy creating repetition and movement under the tinny swirl of Farfisa and Forsyth’s wiry gobs and sweaty modal catapults. The set is extremely well-recorded and thick, giving an undeniable depth and presence to the quartet, as pedal-actuated fireworks and chunky, immobile rhythms vie for center stage. Forsyth’s playing is remarkably physical and explosive, wringing sounds out of the guitar that put it within an inch of its life, often in contrast to the rhythm section’s more measured approach.
The second movement shimmers around aridly twined guitar progressions, rich slide brushing against piano jabs, cymbal latticework, and a bulbous and syrupy organ/bass undertow. It is here that the glammy intensity of the first piece dovetails with Haight-Ashbury jams in haranguing, minimalist psychotropic vistas. The second side’s push emerges slowly, synthesizers feeding into the crevices between Forsyth’s rangy plucks, granting a fuzzy, dry fabric. Interestingly, as the quartet stokes the tune’s possibilities, Forsyth’s chords could almost fill a stadium. That’s not a slight — semi-improvised psych should be able to sound big and even anthemic — and knife-like tendrils snake out from these “big” areas to ensure that space is both filled and accounted for.
Reverberant and sinewy, Forsyth’s playing stands out as something to marvel at. His playing is shockingly ballsy and continuously inventive, and the nearly abusive regularity of the band’s tempos and seething chordal bedrock make his playing sound that much more over-the-top. The closing piece finds the guitarist at tortured, albeit regular angles over droning keyboards and flitting percussion, too maddening to be a plateau, though the structure is similarly parallel. Drawing from the rock pantheon as well as personal experience and fascination, Chris Forsyth presents a guitarist’s record that is decidedly group music, and Solar Motel should whet appetites and blow minds of shredders and weirdos alike.