The second of Roy Montgomery‘s four LP meta-record set released over the span of 2021, That Best Forgotten Work is a curious choice for his next installment. The initial chapter, Island of Lost Souls, was a series of motorik and post-ambient instrumental guitar pieces written in memoriam of various departed figures of his life, both musical and personal. Those pieces were often lengthy meditations, glimmering in the heat haze of grief but still offered rays of light and warmth in the midst of their sadness. Montgomery revealed this grief not as a singular and crushing force but as a complex and organic process, one that churns up happy memories in the midst of sorrowful ones, and in which these emotional states are free to intermingle and react against each other in peace as opposed to choosing one over the other as fixation. So it was curious then to discover That Best Forgotten Work is a series of vocal songs and covers, albeit all done in a cohesive droning and clattering post-punk/goth style.
The logic of including things like both a cover of the Carpenters and Tim Buckley are, after some thought, in keeping with the overall sentiments of the previous record, that being Montgomery’s own intertextual and personal relationship both with music as a whole and the people who make it. There is a sense of sublimation that percolates from that previous record to this one, suffusing the material here; there may be a droning baritone voice and the runtimes may be substantially shorter, but this is clearly the shape of approachable and definable song in the hands of a guitarist wizard, ones that reveal not just his love of sound and soundmakers but also of song, the directness and humanity of the human voice set to chords. This dichotomy places him in the company of figures like Robert Fripp and David Sylvian, two other guitarists who depending on your vantage point seem either instrumental obsessives or avant-pop/rock songwriting heroes, where neither view really captures the pureness and childlike sincerity of their works.
The mood on That Best Forgotten Work is notably much darker than on Island of Lost Souls. The dark tendrils of grief seem to finally be breaking through the seething and seeming forms of light that made up the flesh of that first record. Choosing artists with such tragedy and darkness in them like Buckley and the Carpenters certainly fits the mood; those records are impossibly tear-stained now, with the previous gentility and warmth of them feeling now portentous in their agnosticism to their coming doom. A song like “Superstar”, one without a shred of lyrical darkness, can only generate tears now in the wake of Karen’s untimely and profoundly tragic passing; Montgomery tapping into that well of darkness to render it a grief song feels neither callous nor exploitative but instead a pure thing, one songwriter and player honoring another great of the field who was lost far, far too soon.
Those are but two covers on the record but establish well the common mood. The clouds here are overcast but resentful of releasing their rain; catharsis does not come, only the twisting and slow tension of grief. It also establishes a pattern, implying that the last two records of the set will likely involve grief and loss in some manner, as well as remembrance of song. His choice to place a record of slighter vocal material and covers second is at first curious but then reveals its wisdom overtime; placed first, this would read like an overture quickly skipped for “the real deal” while placed last it would read perhaps more like an addendum than a full and equal-footed contribution to the overall meta-project. As it stands, That Best Forgotten Work does sadly feel less interiorly complete than its predecessor, unable to stand fully on its own as its brethren is able. But there are still two records left to go. The full context of the larger work has not yet revealed itself, and these middle passages in larger formal conceits tend to take on a different weight and gravity when all is said and done.
Label: Ba Da Bing
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.