Punctured only by an occasional clicking beat, like the flicking open and closed of a comatose eyelid through the blurry passage of time, the perfectly titled ‘Ageless Imagination’ opens the new Forest Management album, Passageways, with gentle and ethereal ambience. This tiny, flickering ostinato is in fact the only beat of any kind throughout the whole record. Within minutes, the massaging sounds of Passageways puts you into a timeless trance state; a computerised dream, hinting at either peace or melancholy depending on your disposition.
‘Blue Leaves’ carries the suggestion of a choral line under its waves of soft yet distorted noise. The minimal and floating vibe set out by the first track is maintained, but a mysteriously unsettling element slowly seeps in beneath the surface. Time seems to be distorted along with the soundwaves, and the track feels like it’s over far quicker than it is.
The slightly darkened tone takes a turn for the Haxan Cloak and gets properly dark by track three, ‘Smoke Rising Out Back’. A low, sustained drone underpins this long track, whilst the top layers of sound gradually build in intensity, starting out almost calming before stirring into life as truly worrying entities of their own. It’s like lying in bed in the dark, enjoying the sound of soft rain falling on the roof outside, then gradually realising that the ceiling is covered in millions of crawling spiders and you are completely paralysed and unable to look away. The fact that this eight-minute crescendo is the only thing that changes in the whole track only serves to draw your focus in on its effectiveness.
Aptly named ‘Love and Stillness’ is an immediate reaction and reprieve in comparison, falling back into pure ambience with glacially shifting chords just barely ebbing and flowing. The sinister undertone is not completely removed, though, until 15-minute closer ‘Various Sources of Light’, which is like diving into a healing pool of radiance to wash away the remains of the journey you’ve been on up to this point. It may seem redundant to call an ambient or drone release ‘repetitive’, but this track is the first point on Passageways where its slowly lapping ambience begins to cry out for some variation, which perhaps might be down to its more present melodicism. Regardless, Passageways is an effective and immersive experience, and with this kind of formless, atmospheric music, that is the highest compliment.