Silent Forum – Sanctuary EP
Review by Kevin McGrath
Sanctuary is Silent Forum’s third compelling release of 2017, following on from the band’s single of the year contender “Limbo” and its pulsating successor “Trust”. The four-track E.P, produced by Haden Dewis, leads off with “When I See you Shake”, a classic of its kind, which is to say Interpol-esque Indie-rock, but it’s far from the strongest cut on this excellent “disc”. Indeed, the song is almost wiped from the memory banks by the anguished intensity of “Humility”, a track which, on first hearing, appears to be another shimmering piece of melodic rock, but whose despairing lyric soon casts a shadow across the surface of the song – ‘It comes to mind at times like this / this is chronic loneliness’ concedes singer Richard Wiggins whose steep descent into the maelstrom is mirrored by Dario Ordi’s frenzied guitar work. The song ends in a sonic blur, with Wiggins intoning ‘I’m having trouble sleeping / when it’s not you beside me’.
Track three, “Who’s Going to Side with Me”, is a staple of Silent Forum’s live show, thanks to an incendiary intro which ignites the animated Wiggins into a sequence of electrifying on-stage paroxysms. Wiggins’ sui-generis stage persona is the best-kept secret in Welsh pop (the band’s unofficial embargo means there is no online footage available of the front man at his most ‘into it’). It’s worth contrasting Silent Forum’s low-key approach with Future Islands’ celebrated performance on the Late Show with David Letterman, which has so far registered 2,210,975 hits on YouTube. As fine a song as “Seasons (Waiting on You)” is, it was undoubtedly Samuel T. Herring’s manic / mesmeric performance that generated such a landslide response.
Back to the song itself, which centres around yet another dysfunctional relationship or, perhaps, it’s the very same dislocated romance carried over from “Limbo”, a song which begins with Wiggins’ eerie discloser ‘You may have noticed that I only write about you’. The singer, unable to keep his worst fears to himself, is reduced to lamenting ‘Who’s going to side with me? / Once she’s twisted my words’. Wiggins’ inner/outer turmoil is reflected by the abrasive rhythm section of Oli Richards (bass & vocals) and Elliot Sampier (drums), which raises Cain here, and on the E.P’s epic final track.
In an interview with Wales Arts Review earlier this year, Wiggins described the E.P’s final cut, “Hosanna”, (a companion piece to “Humility”), as being designed to ‘take a character on a journey from a horrific break-up into a state of grace’. Beginning with a vulnerable Wiggins reaching out to his (s)ex-partner, ‘I don’t understand, I’m underprepared, I’m out on my own / I need help from you, make it okay’, the track spirals toward a fractious denouement. I’ve no inside knowledge as to whether Wiggins is a religious man, or not, but by the song’s impassioned conclusion he’s pleading with his creator for clemency – ‘Hosanna, please God forgive me / It’s all instinct baby, it’s all instinct’.
While Wiggins is keen to credit Indie icon David Gedge as a major influence, a more intriguing comparison can be made with Fearghal McKee of cult combo Whipping Boy. While Gedge has a forensic eye for the first sign of a relationship gone sour, as on the adroitly titled “What Have I Said Now”- ‘About what I said just before / You know, your clothes on the floor / Well, I never meant to hurt you’, there’s something much more disturbing in the now defunct Dublin band’s interpretation of kitchen – sink drama. Whipping Boy’s 1995 single, “We Don’t Need Nobody Else”, certainly shares a strand or two of its D.N.A. with Sanctuary, as this unsettling verse illustrates - ‘Now I know the distance between us / Christ we weren’t even fighting, I was just annoyed / Silence and you started to cry, that really hurt you said / Yeah, and you thought you knew me’.
It’s worth noting that Sanctuary was written and recorded nearly a year ago, and that the group is already moving on from the songs presented here. However, judging by the material premiered at the band’s Buffalo Bar gig last month, particularly the stand-out songs “Independent” and “Speak Honestly”, the Cardiff-based combo are well-positioned to make a breakthrough in 2018 (of course, I predicted the exact same outcome for the group this time last year and it failed to materialise!). For the moment, then, Silent Forum remain as outliers on the South Wales music scene; their distinctive brand of claustrophobic, yet cinematic, intimate, yet infinite Indie-noir still to find the audience it so clearly deserves.
Sanctuary can be heard on Spotify from the 10th of November