Premiere: Morella’s Forest 1988, ‘Sweet Charity’

Morella's Forest, in 1988

Music history is littered with “lost” albums. This is the story of finding one that was thought to be gone forever.

Morella’s Forest were the Orange County trio of brothers Ronnie and Jason Martin, then 18 and 16, respectively, and their friend, bassist Randi Lamb. In the late 1980s, they signed to Narrowpath Records and made an album, but before it could be released, the label went under.

The Martins moved on, of course. Among their many exploits, Ronnie Martin’s project Joy Electric amassed a vast catalog and made him a Moog hero. Jason Martin turned Starflyer 59 into the stuff of legend, releasing 15 full-lengths (including one of the best shoegaze records ever), along with a slew of EPs and singles as he marches SF59 toward its fourth decade.

Both bands and assorted side projects have earned the Martins devout cult followings, and over the years their fledgling band has been the subject of chatter on message boards. And finally, it will be heard: Narrowpath’s onetime owner Greg Strange gifted the masters back to the Martins, and after a remaster from Chris Colbert, the album, “Tales,” is getting a release on O.C.-based indie label Velvet Blue Music.

What does it sound like? Writer J. Edward Keyes, now the music editor at Bandcamp (and, among other things, author of the liner notes for Starflyer 59’s 2000 retrospective “Easy Come Easy Go”), has penned a mini-history of the Morella’s Forest album. He writes:

“The influences on the young Martin Brothers are undeniable — you can hear nods to New Order in the silvery central riff of ‘Sweet Charity,’ the barren ‘Honeylands’ feels like a distant cousin to Pornography-era The Cure, and the tense, rocketing ‘Enchanted’ has the same driving forward motion of Echo & the Bunnymen. There are even a few ghosts of the future: the bleak, bass-y guitar line on ‘The Bridge’ feels like a preview of Jason’s work in Starflyer 59, and Ronnie would revisit the sprightly ‘Will Last So Long’ in numerous projects in the years that followed.

But there’s also something else about these songs — something that keeps them from being mere teenage tributes to the Martins’ alt-rock heroes. There’s an otherworldliness to them, the way the guitars drape down over the songs like vines, and the synths settle in like mist. The whole thing feels like it’s set in some mythical storybook land. Ronnie’s young voice, with its dramatic, melancholy ache and his Manchester-by-way-of-Orange-County accent, imparts everything with a sense of eerie mystery. The guitars are wreathed in reverb — skeletal, distant, and shadowy. More than just a lost relic of new wave history, ‘Tales’ feels like a transmission from another world altogether, spectral and almost spooky.”

Suffice to say interest is high. Jeff Cloud, the owner of Velvet Blue Music who over the years played with the Martins in various projects, says the limited vinyl series and the initial run of CDs have already sold out … without anyone having heard a note. “To have this record coming out on the 25th anniversary of the label is so weird,” he says.

Sadly, Lamb passed away last year. The album, officially out May 14, is being released under the artist name Morella’s Forest 1988 because in the 1990s an Ohio band began working under the name Morella’s Forest.

||| Stream: “Sweet Charity”