Forest Swords - Compassion

by Justin Pearson Rating:8 Release Date:2017-05-05

Matthew Barnes' music has been labeled drone, experimental,  avant-garde and post-rock. But even while those labels might apply in bits and pieces throughout his slim body of work, taken as a whole it seems as if he's developed a whole new language/style that other electronic musicians should be eager to take note of.

His latest album as Forest Swords, Compassion, is a furthering of the sound that he's been perfecting since the equally excellent Dagger Paths EP and debut album Engravings from 2010 and 2013. There's still plenty of clanging percussion here, along with clipped vocal samples surrounded by both artificial and real sounds, but it's not as dark or claustrophobic as his previous stuff. There's more of an openness that seems to suggest hope arising out of chaos.

'Panic' begins with chime-like percussion before a ritualistic drum sets the mood. It's the perfect setup for the album's only clearly heard lyrics: "I fear something's wrong/ The panic is on." For a song that's focused solely on anxiety and doom, though, it sure sounds confident.

'Arms Out' fully embodies its title. It's big, round and welcoming. The vocal bits are clipped and hard to make out, but totally satisfying, and it's Barnes' singular technique at work here that makes it so.

There's a big orchestral feel to 'Raw Language' in addition to a sprinkling of jazz. The chant-like female voices call to mind the mysterious, Middle Eastern aspect that runs through most of his music. 'The Highest Flood' is in a similar vein, but slightly darker.

Perhaps most surprising is album closer 'Knife Edge.' The whole song feels cinematic, its opening suggesting a contemplative mood piece with a melancholic piano theme setting the tone. It later begins to swirl and tumble toward the end, as if closing a chapter. It feels like goodbye, but it's warm and reassuring.

With Compassion, Matthew Barnes has further solidified his Forest Swords project. It doesn't really break any new ground, but stands firmer amid a crowded electronic/experimental landscape. If there's any sway to be detected, it's the kind that's purposeful and controlled.

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