An artist’s home can often come flooding through their music. Could The Smiths have come from anywhere other than Manchester, or The Red Hot Chili Peppers from anywhere but Los Angeles? We think not. Sometimes a location can mirror the music and we think this is particularly true of Latino bands. When we say Latino, we ask you to consider anyone from Spain’s El Guincho to Brazil’s Holger, with their wonderful fusion of tropicalia, afrobeat and pop. There’s a wildly sunny disposition to it all, with an uninhibited energy and carnival atmosphere. We imagine them to count a whistle among their listed instruments, alongside the steel drums and African guitars. Well today’s recommendation comes from another corner of the Latin world, Argentina, but he bucks the hedonistic trend. In his world the jungle is in fact a dark, lonely tropical world.
Treeless Forest is the solo project of singer-songwriter and producer Tom Bonilla, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He delivered his debut five-track EP, Through The River, Through The Forest, this Spring. With this excellent piece of work, that dances lightly between light and shade, we are taken on an unnerving journey, proving that South America isn’t only about tropical wonders. In reality, it’s not the fault of Holger or any other Latino band, but rather its our own over-simplified prejudices that form this generalisation of the music from that continent. Of course we’re under no illusion that Argentina is without its complications and troubled cultures, but it’s taken until now to hear it channelled this way. Here we have an introspective work as complex and interesting as any, finding Bonilla singing challenging lines, such as “If I drown in the sea, how will you remember me?“, on the tune, Melipulli. He’s been described as a producer of ‘psyche folk’, but as much as there is often experimentation and a down tempo feel to his work, it’s actually more of an electronic experience.
The EPs opening track, Doppelgänger, is the perfect introduction to his sound and goes some way to explaining the artist’s moniker, as this tune stands you at the edge of the metaphoric forest that is his mind. You find yourself stood before a dark looming space, not sure of what’s inside, staring into an uneasy black world of ideas. Just a few steps inside the forest you’re met with a beautiful gear shift, into a kind of blissful release, as Bonilla’s voice appears in a style as light and drifting as a ghost, as if he is here, somewhere, to help you get through the experience. This is a vocal style delivered through the darkness between the trees, but just as the fear begins to lift the heavy mantra returns forcing the song’s unease back upon you, reminding you that you are indeed lost in a dark woodland. Its switch from aphotic claustrophobia to illuminated radiance back to black agitation is nothing short of stunning.
That same trick is smartly applied to the EPs other outstanding track, Iguazú, which introduces similar chanting choral melodies, before his voice, with lyrics that are always sung in English, swirls around your headphones. He never fully emerges out of the darkness though, you can hear him, but you cannot see him, adding a mysterious style, as if there’s a fog between you and him. The song is always unsettling and although you cannot see Bonilla before you when his mysterious voice comes through the air it once again arrives as something of a comforting relief, knowing that you are not in fact alone. Just over two minutes into the song there’s a wonderful break, as a kind of ukulele comes strumming into view in a charming and relieving touch, as if you’ve finally reached the daylight, but before you can step into the clearing the dark chanting returns reminding you that you’re not safe, not yet.
That same strumming appears in the tune, Puerto Montt, in a gliding finish to the EP, more reminiscent of a song like Hairshirt, which showed off REM at their most thoughtful. It’s a refreshing close to the work, especially seeing as it appears immediately after the tune, Wake, which starts out as the most quiet and alluring of all the songs, but in an unsettling change is found rapidly thrashing around by its close. The entire EP is available to download for free on his Bandcamp, and we suggest that you won’t find a more dramatic, melancholic experience this year. And it is an experience. It’s shown us a skilled operator, who has mastered the art of atmospherics and introspection in an exceptional half hour excursion through his mind. It proves to us that geography can indeed influence an artist’s music, but ultimately it will always be just the surroundings upon where your feet stand; the real insights transcend geography because music is always a journey through someone’s ideas. (MB)