Disasters by Carlos Forster (Review)

Disasters isn’t just Forster’s most experimental release to date; it’s also one of his best and most emotional.
Disasters, Carlos Forster

What’s most amazing about Carlos Forster’s music — both his solo releases and his For Stars work back in the late ’90s and early ’00s — is the emotional punch it packs despite being so ephemeral. And his music has never been more ephemeral than on Disasters, the most “out there” thing Forster’s recorded since For Stars’ final album, 2004’s It Falls Apart.

On songs like “You’ll Survive,” “Girl on a Train,” and “Tim,” you don’t listen to Disasters so much as let it unfurl and envelope you within one layer after another of swirling organs, synths, trumpets, and guitars. Oh, and Forster’s heartbreaking voice, which reverbs from here to eternity in a manner that belies the fact that Disasters was recorded in his basement.

At first blush, these songs are pretty enough experiences, and it’s interesting to hear Forster trade in the folk-iness of his previous album, 2011’s M. Ward-produced Family Trees, for something akin to The Flaming Lips’ psychedelia, or even a lo-fi version of Loveless. But then Forster’s golden voice begins to pierce through the songs’ hazy veil of sound, and the album’s poignancy comes to bear fully upon you.

Forster has always had a knack for penning deeply emotional pop songs ever since the earliest days of For Stars (e.g., “Lot Like Me,” “Aging,” “The Kissing Scene”). What’s more, he now pays the bills as a therapist. So when he describes “You’ll Survive” as “a letter to an unknown woman about surviving massive psychological upheaval,” and sings “Girl, I could take you far away, I’d take you far away/But you, you gotta go there on your own/Lost in the fires of your mind/A child’s sense of time/You’re holding on to nothing,” the empathy and compassion are impossible to deny.

This is especially true with Disasters’ final song, “Alice,” which he penned for his young daughter. The heartache and bittersweetness in Forster’s lyrics — “I guess you had to go/I know I’ll have to let you/Falling through my arms/And into someone else’s/Everybody knows/But no one wants to tell you/That everybody goes” — is made only moreso by the delicate atmospherics (fading synths, glacial rhythms, twinkling piano notes). Here, the result of Forster’s updated aesthetic truly manifests itself: Freed from the “traditional” pop structures of his previous albums, Forster’s music is blurrier and more abstract than ever, but paradoxically, it now possesses a greater, more concentrated poignancy and emotional heft.

“Alice“ s denouement arrives, and after two verses of resignation, Forster sings “Oh Alice, if you find this song/I wanna tell you just how much I love you/And if it finds you down/Perhaps you’re broken-hearted/Here’s a song that started/I hope it makes you smile.” At first blush, such plaintive lyrics seem cloying, but delivered in Forster’s voice, you never doubt the sincerity, especially when the song ends on a darker note of — dare I say — fear and trepidation. (Or maybe that’s just me talking as someone who, like Forster, has a young daughter who’ll have to eventually grow up, leave, and find her own way in the world, too.)

At this point, I haven’t even discussed Forster’s stark cover of The Flaming Lips’ “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” which relies on just his naked voice and piano to great effect, or his atmospheric cover of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner.” But suffice to say, Disasters isn’t just Forster’s most experimental release to date; it’s also one of his best and most emotional. And considering his discography so far, that’s a pretty impressive feat.