In 2010 Matthew Barnes (AKA Forest Swords) released his debut EP Dagger Paths, a hypnotic combination of dub, drone, and lo-fi RnB. The almost-full length received much acclaim by those who heard it, and Barnes was tipped as an exciting new producer. Since then Forest Swords seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, with only a few remixes to his name as well as co-producing How To Dress Well’s track ‘Cold Nites’ in 2012.
He returned in August of this year with Engravings, his first album. From the off, it’s clear that Engravings is more refined than Dagger Paths. Current single ‘The Weight Of Gold’ demonstrates the same simple looped drum beats, but the instrumentation (and noticeably the guitar) are treated with less reverb than previously. Despite the simplicity of the beats Engravings displays a much richer sound. Every track contains its own emotional journey through the many layers of shimmering synths, guitars, and distorted vocals.
‘Irby Tremor’ is perhaps the most similar track to earlier releases, beginning with heavily distorted orchestra and choir samples which create a sense of immediacy less prevalent elsewhere on the album.
The lack of urgency is by no means a bad thing. The gradual introduction of the loops and layers within each track, along with Forest Swords’ seeming allergy to a bassline, gives the album a misleading feeling of sparseness. Repeat listens, however, provide a rewarding experience, each track a lush scenario plucked from Barnes’ imagination. The album was mixed outside on the beaches of The Wirral, and was inspired by the history of the area (see ‘Ljoss’, the Old Norse word for light, and ‘Thor’s Stone’, a local landmark where Viking sacrifices were said to take place) and this is evident in the album. Whilst completely electronic, the songs conjure up landscapes and images of nature or times past. This theme of the album doesn’t detract from the tracks individually, each being excellent both as a standalone and as part of the album.
Forest Swords’ music is incredibly personal, and because of this we can hear his ideas and visions for the music with perfect clarity. As such, it’s slightly surprising to hear a guest feature on the album. Singer Anneka lends her enchanting vocals to ‘Anneka’s Battle’, with some samples being chopped and distorted to provide melodies, as heard previously on the album. The track also is the only one on the album to contain verses of identifiable singing, and it does so beautifully.
The record is simultaneously scarce and complete, and infinitesimal but also vast. Along with Jon Hopkins’ Immunity, this is one of the experimental electronic releases of the year. Definitely not one to put on in the background.
Released 26/7/13 on Tri Angle Records