Christina, Hollywood 02/04/2014
Helmed by UK producer-composer Matthew Barnes, Forest Swords is a genre-defying mix of electronica and new wave r&b whose sound Barnes himself most accurately describes as a “balance between really intense euphoria and this almost bleakness.” Fully embodying those two polar opposites could easily lead a lesser artist to some jarring transitions, but the strength of Forest Swords’ debut LP, Engravings lies within Barnes’ ability to create moody and often sensual dream-like atmospheres that ebb and flow with ease. Even Barnes’ heavily distorted vocals have the fluidity to rise to the foreground or fade into the background at will, creating a hazy haunted atmosphere. If only the delicate state between waking and dreaming could always be this good.
Forest Swords have been gently edging out into broader and broader public consciousness for a while now, but it was the Dagger Paths EP that set the Internet ablaze over Matthew Barnes' melancholy folk dub, often sounding as though the melodies and atmospheres have been lifted from the spooky rustic breakdowns on records by bedroom black metal acts like Wyrd. Far away samples, vaguely medieval melodies played on strange synthesizer flutes and dusty glass strings plucked and bowed, digital and otherworldly. Engravings, Barnes' first full length, has been eagerly anticipated by an arms-crossed audience not particularly forgiving of gauche disappointments. Luckily, there are none to be found. I hear massive doses of the On-U Sound aesthetic in the record's slow dark primeval grooves, sounding as much like damaged field recordings of some danceable cult ritual as it does a sample'n'loop based avant-hip-hop record of our current epoch. Think about a chopped and screwed My Life In The Bush of Ghosts or African Head Charge's more bleak and minimalist approaches to musical ethnography with the skittery boom-bap of our post-Dilla landscape. Highly recommended!