Jess Forrest’s synth project Castle If is hypnotic. She lures listeners into a trance with her small cavalcade of electronics, then suddenly makes them question everything. The latest from the icy Castle is this two-part video series shot at the Mendel Art Gallery, and directed by Lisa Folkerson. “Sector 03” is a sprawling song but doesn’t feel like it goes on forever despite the runtime. Forrest slowly adds bits in—a metronome-style backing beat, the odd flourish of synth, both modded and unmodded vocals—and watching it all come together on video is fascinating. Despite the calm tempo, Forrest is always moving, and the video gets downright weird when her face suddenly appears on screen.
The video for “The Surge” gets a bit more unhinged, breaking up the performance bits with more natural scenery and a lot more of Forrest on her own, singing the words. The song itself is a little more upbeat, and the video capitalizes on the faster tempo to create something truly disorienting. These two songs are a sneak peek at Castle If’s upcoming Sector 03 sci-fi concept album, and it’s a very promising start.
- Michael Thomas, GRAY OWL POINT.
SECTOR 03, dir. Lisa Folkerson, 2015.
This is one of two videos made for the Mendel Art Gallery by Lisa Folkerson. It is a great example of why Castle If is one of Toronto’s most captivating performers. Channeling the sensual warmth of Berlin School electronics and robot-pop vocals she bops and sways to her alluring arpeggios while lush vegetation, cascading waters falls are blanketed around her. Though the music moves at a clicking beetle’s pace, Castle If channels a lesser known spirit of New Age. It touches the part of the brain that makes you move like your soul is on fire.
- James Lindsay, WEIRD CANADA.
SECTOR 02, dir. Kate Young, 2018.
Castle If (Jess Forrest) creates an analog synthscape as the futuristic backdrop for her latest recording, Sector 03. Inspired by William Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi novel Neuromancer, Forrest conveys an anxiety about technology as she examines a future in which disorder is magnified. Throughout the album, her electronics twinkle and throb with an air of worry akin to that of Y2K panic. The track “Sector 02” ends with what sounds like the logo theme for the THX Sound System trailer played before movies. The world of Sector 03 may be fictitious, but the dread that Forrest conjures feels all too real.
The energized electronic beat that Forrest threads through the first four tracks of Sector 3 feels like the nervous thrum of a cityscape. On the album highlight, “Running Through The Sprawl,” Forrest morphs an initially affable synth-line into an anxious theme. Halfway through the track, in which the pace increases steadily, we hear Forrest panting, exhausted from the chase that has just begun. In the second half of the album, Forrest expresses the desire to escape the world she has built. “Take me far away from this,” she sings on “Sector 02.” And then later, with her voice masked by a vocoder, she demands “a new operating system.” The closing track, “Sector 01,” is a waltz to the end of days—or perhaps a waltz to welcome a strange new world. Over an eerily playful melody, Forrest softly and directly says to the listener, “There is a way out,” adding, “You know how to get there.”
We are, for now at least, still in control of our future.
Saskatoon-to-Toronto transplant Jess Forrest produced these two videos under her Castle If moniker with visual artist Lisa Folkerson for the Mendel Art Gallery's annual LUGO celebration. "I wasn't able to fly out to Saskatchewan this winter, so I told them I wouldn't be able to perform live, but joked that I could perform via video, and surprisingly, they said 'yes'!" Forrest tells us via email.
The clips have a distinctly cable access aesthetic, a sort of hybrid performance video/green-screen video art installation, which is exactly what the pair were going for, Forrest says. "The songs are two of my personal favourites from an unfinished Sci-Fi concept album I've been working on over the past year. The first track, 'Sector 03,' sets the tone for the record, like a type of overture. The second track, 'The Surge,' is a pop song I wrote in the style of John Carpenter."
- Chris Hampton, CHART ATTACK.
We have been waiting with bated breath for some new Castle If since pretty much forever. Her collaborations with Cell Memory are what put her on our radar, and her debut krautrock EP from 2012 made us stick around. The long-form electro-prog seems rooted in many of the same influences as Silent Shout favourite Femminielli, and the talent is just as evident, but with the exception of many phenomenal live performances, we hadn’t heard a true statement from the project. Finally, we have two new songs that are worthy of the building anticipation that exceed all previous expectations.
Castle If was commissioned to make a performance video by The Mendel in Saskatoon for the art gallery’s 50th anniversary. Taking a few liberties, she collaborated with video artist Lisa Folkerson (who directed Ken Park’s phenomenal “He Says I’m an Island” video last year), and produced what she refers to as “more of a cable-access-style television performance than a music video.”
“Sector 03″—the title track of a forth-coming sci-fi concept record— features a snarling monster of a bass-line that creates the backdrop for vocoded tales of woe and sadness. Meanwhile, “The Surge” goes in different direction: a perfectly contained nugget of a pop-song that wouldn’t sound out of place on an alternate universe Ladytron record. Behind it all are Folkerson’s projections, which create the perfect space for Castle If to do her thing, and allows the immaculately produced songs to speak for themselves.
Sector 03 has officially become the most anticipated album here at our office, and while we know that good things come to those that wait, we need to hear this ASAP.
While Toronto‘s Castle If usually fires up her analog synths to launch the listener into far-off galaxies, this beautifully realized collection of songs turns earthward to capture the essence of a family of house plants. It’s a cross between the pop and drone focused sides of her output, a series of seven melodic instrumental experiments, many named for the Latin moniker of the plant that inspired it.
Plants aren’t something we often ascribe personalities to (remember how hard it was to play a flower or a tree in your kindergarten play?), but each one here is its own individual, expressed through deep vibratos, purring middle tones or dancing upper voices. It’s easy to imagine something green growing, waving and dancing to each composition. We recommend forgoing headphones for this one–your plants just might like it, too.
- Elena Gritzan, SILENT SHOUT.
Castle If’s Plant Material is a collection of compositions that swoop from cosmic near-alien synth lines to complexly rooted (yes, rooted) melodies inspired by plants. Five of the seven pieces take on the scientific names for tropical plants, the clinical tone of which adds to the curious ambience. Each song contains single or double synth line melodies — save for the cinematic album outlier “Sansevieria Trifasciata” — that either rise and fall with inhuman grace or call back to classical or latin-american inspired compositions.
By including a vastness of history and geography, Castle If creates hooks that will float along in your head until the next track begins. Plant Material soars from note to note, track to track, as though guiding you through a trance, then asks you to listen closely for your own melody amidst the soft pulsing of “Polypodium Aureum”. By the end, you’re either up in the cosmos, or deeply grounded here on Earth. The choice is left to you.
- Laura Stanley, GREY OWL POINT.
Toronto analogue synthesizer genius, Castle If recorded an ode to her beloved houseplants and it’s absolutely brilliant. Plant Material’s rich instrumental soundscapes are a pleasing intersection of her previous disparate pop and drone based styles. The warm and dreamy melodies are a bit otherworldly with a touch of lounge.
- Jill Grant, TAKE IT FOR GRANTED.
Plant Material is Toronto experimental electronic musician Jess Forrest‘s 7-track love letter to her apartment’s large-n-luscious house plant collection. The album idea sparked after legendary taper/music curator Joe Strutt asked her to play his Music Gallery show, EMERGENTS III—Joe told Jess to play, “anything she wanted,” and the concept was born.
Castle If’s previous releases are messages received and decoded from the endless drone of deep space—colourful Moog Lil’ Phatty nebulas flanked by milky way Oberheim oscillations, all dubbed to deliberately hissy tape. With Plant Material, Jess returns to earth—or more precisely, she reaches her hands down into the mossy loam of her plant pots, scoops up mineral-rich handfuls, and watches the dark grains of soil tumble back down onto the glossy leaves.
With delicately rendered cover art by painter Anna May Henry, file this release firmly in the card catalogue under library music; urban tropicalia, creature comforts.
- Katie Jensen, MUSIC BETWEEN FRIENDS.
Photo from In The Studio exclusive interview with Cam Lindsay of NOW magazine.
Intersection Music Festival was low-key one of the best events of the summer, and it culminated in a performance that made great use of Allan Gardens, one of Toronto’s loveliest public spaces. Castle If performed a short but sublime set of music for plants from her album Plant Material, with masterfully understated accompaniment by the Music in the Barns chamber ensemble. I was sandwiched between an infant and an octogenarian, both of whom were as quietly transfixed as I was.
- Mark Streeter, NOW MAGAZINE (Best Shows of 2017).
LISTEN: Interview with "houseplant enthusiast" Castle If on Canadaland's The Imposter podcast Music For Plants And The People Who Love Them. -- "In this episode, we look at how a 1973 New York Times bestselling book of controversial experiments on plants inspired generations of artists to try to communicate with plants through sound. We hear about what it was like to grow up with pioneering electronic musician Mort Garson, whose early synthesizer album Plantasia went from being a free gift with a mattress purchase from Sears to a $150 dollar used CD on Amazon."
PRESS FOR CELL MEMORY & CASTLE IF'S ZWEI HANDE, 2012:
(Cell Memory &) Castle If sculpts some beautiful Kraftwerk-esque songs with some other strange tidbits thrown in. On “Neuwellen” from their 2012 release “Zwei Hände (Part 1)” the mandatory kraut-rock ostinato is firmly in place, but as it spins out there are some vocals and wandering synths lines introduced. Psychedelic analog synth kraut rock with, sure, a slight tinge of new wave as the title suggests. It’s new wave through the lens of experimental krautrock.
- Adam Shanley, QUARTERTONALITY.
Set adrift on modular bliss. Zwei Hände is the inaugural team up of these Toronto cosmonauts, drifting from oscillator throb into ambient blast-off, Milky Way swirls, and vocoder exotica. Shelve next to Fripp and Eno's (No Pussyfooting), or for a more recent reference, the incredible collabo of Das Amore and JLK from Montreal's Los Disco Enfantasmes. If anything can bridge the Big Smoke and la belle province, it's gotta be a love of gettin' gone on the interstellar Autobahn.