DJ Forest Walker drags trance into 2017 with Project Arbutus

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      DJ Forest Walker
      Project Arbutus (Independent)

      In a world where aggressive future bass is the go-to for big clubs, and groove-driven house and techno are en vogue in the underground, it’s a bold choice to produce an album that borrows more from trance—a genre tied closely to the ’90s—than the trends of the day. But instead of creating a record that’s a homage to the past, DJ Forest Walker—or Jordan McCuaig, to his mom—has neatly dragged the sound into 2017, thanks to a healthy dose of trap music.

      A concept album of sorts—as far as a lyricless electronic record can be—his debut full-length, Project Arbutus, weaves a narrative across its 14 tracks. Each song offers a different mood or chapter, and is described by enigmatic, space-themed titles like “Solar Flare”, “Orbital Decay”, and “Event Horizon”. It might seem a little lofty and inaccessible, but the music is anything but.

      The record is named after the organic world—namely, the trees that thrive on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast—but the album has a distinctly sci-fi feel, with cold, impersonal synth lines and minor chord progressions scoring the majority of the tracks. Sounds like the gritty, distortion-drenched lead in “Trackers II” and trap music’s ticky drums capture the feel of the urban jungle rather than verdant forests—but that coolness serves to highlight the moments that have real warmth.

      Album standout “An Endless Fog”, for instance, is filled with lush pads and rich, suspended chords that drift behind a jazzy saxophone riff. The only track to feature vocals, it adds a human touch to a record dominated by synths. “Cascade”, too—a song that blends a Top 40–esque beat with electric guitar and piano lines—adds a new timbre to the proceedings, and is nicely complemented by funky stomper “The Lookout”.

      McCuaig has an ear for rhythm, and is able to manipulate drum sounds to become the focal point of the song, rather than just its framework. It’s that innovation that lets Project Arbutus capture the themes of the past while sounding undeniably fresh.

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays