Review: FOANS “Schema”

17 Nov 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

Here is your checklist of images, trigger phrases, and qualifiers for listening to the prolific and somewhat elusive Denver-based artist FOANS:

-pleasantly bored
-there's a city between me and vast wilderness
-aimless heartbreak
-progressive loops
-implicit drums
-solo week nights
-moments of the midwest in the west
-cozy shadowland
-it feels so familiar and I don't know why
-pre-nostalgia
-he makes it seem easy
-I am afraid of soft November skies
-missing the boat completely and slowly accepting the fact that it wasn't meant to be
-November music, oh so good and oh so sad
-the same patterns follow us for the rest of our lives

On occassion, we get to know artists who craft a signature sound so recognizable that we become inspired to establish an interpretive lexicon for describing them, keywords and codes for accessing steady play of their enticing designs. When it comes to FOANS, we are dealing with a bundle of nostalgia candy and studiousness, aesthetic song titles and addicting composition. His latest release on Denmark's Speaker Footage (also a launchpad for ambient pop acts like Temple Volant and AyGeeTee) is breadthy in duration, and a near masterpiece of an album. It is ambient-ready, IDM-esque, sample friendly, steadily melodic. Further, it is a work that can easily be played on repeat, like all FOANS releases, hence the candy reference. Having said that, there still is a quality to Schema that communicates the artist having taken things up a notch.

You know the type of dub ambient that is rhythmic without (much) drumming or dub, like Loscil? That is the place where FOANS hangs out, except that he still doesn't really sound like anyone else. Tracks like "Orsa" and "Copacabana" present percussion, the latter being a most enjoyable and familiar track. With a light and spiraling clarinet sample that reminds me of the one in FSOL's "Max", the melody feels Broken Social Scene-inspired, as it is down-home soothing, polyrhythmic, and - bear with me - Toronto-like: it's all about the way the light hits those low buildings off of Bloor and the nearness of the intimidating body of fresh water. Later, tracks like "Compensation" and "Comment #1" are succinct, catchy, and pro-dance. "Steam" is agreeably of Lobster Theremin caliber with its housey snare hits and wrestling shimmering melodies, balled up by their rolling motion. 

"Lean," however, is an example of percussion-less rhythm. It is thematic and sprinkley, looked after by an agile bass line. When "Sizzle" sneaks in, we have an Aix Em Klemm-cadence of contemplation on our hands. With another notable bass line present, we sense some protectiveness rather than ability, perhaps conveyed by its concentrated persistence. We may sigh and simply give in to one by one acknowledging the layers and calm evolution that they endure.

"Touchscreen" is a breathtaking trance track minus drums, and, due to its potency, it is terribly challenging to recap. Its watery foundation hooks us at once before a Carpenters-sounding vocal loop enters to lead a plethora of gorgeous pad synth formation. The leading melody is truly cinematic, something to inspire grounded optimism for the seasons to come. "Dakan" drives the same point home even more further, and valorously. Just try it, you'll see.

For me, there's something significant about the fact that FOANS is in Denver, Colorado, the bursting-at-the-seams-of-your-white-collar-shirt recreational paradise. Having spent some significant time in that area over the last year, I can testify that Denver is gorgeous, expansive, and both soft and harsh. The atmosphere of the area is complicated and congested: it takes what feels like a full day to get from one area to another (despite all the visible coutryside) and one often catches oneself stuck in a traffic jam on the epic mountain pass on the way to the ski hill, ironically. Isn't skiing an activity that occurs moreso in areas less populated, on a mountain, in the natural world? Isn't part of it all about zoning out and escaping pressures of other people? This is normal speed and paradox for the population of the Denver area, and the empirical knowledge that I simply do not resonate with any part of that lifestyle feels pacified by FOANS. Having music this compelling and atmospheric come out of a place I find vibrationally fucked up, I am able to peer indirectly into the beauty and inspiration it offers so many millions of people; I can have gratitude for the place while lying safely distant from it.

Schema is out now on Speaker Footage. Order the tape here, and be sure to pursue more FOANS here.