Forest Swords – Engravings

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Released: August 23, 2013

Label: Tri Angle

Producer: Matthew Barnes

Genre: Ambient, Experimental, Electronic, Dub, Drone

Tracklist:

01 Ljoss
02 Thor’s Stone
03 Irby Tremor
04 Onward
05 The Weight Of Gold
06 An Hour
07 Anneka’s Battle
08 Gathering
09 The Plumes
10 Friend, You Will Never Learn

When I first heard Matthew Barnes’ 2010 debut EP Dagger Paths I felt a certain vibe one could only feel when he’s hearing something amazing and singular. Singular in a way that there was nothing like this ever before, and that the artist would have to work extremely hard to top that off. That’s why I initially thought it took him so much time to create a follow up. But it turns out there were other complications as well. He suffered from hearing problems that made his new work sound different with each listen, and forced him to consider ending Forest Swords. But also, in an interview he stated that he took it upon himself to take thing slowly, like his music’s slow growing vibe, so that he could focus. “I’m glad I took a step back…I’ve seen so many bands who strike while the iron’s hot and then burn out.”

His judgment proved worth the wait and so did his hearing I guess right after I heard his album yesterday and all night last night on my bed with insomnia. This album is the perfect follow up to Dagger Paths, because using his simple methods, loops, and foggy guitar line he was able to simply brush off non-believers saying that he repeats himself. Well he did…but the point is he didn’t change his formula to evade accusations, he used it to brush them off. That doesn’t mean that it’s the exact same record. The vocal on this album are exceedingly more haunting and beautiful as are the new sounds he is slowly inserting in the tracks. The fruit of that labor, as I said before, is familiar but still fresh.

Which brings me to my next point. What Engravings does that Dagger Paths couldn’t do is create more than just one moment of chilly breezed vibes. In Engravings Barnes is able to unravel and reveal even more complex ideas about his style and music. Actually let me correct that. You can’t possibly miss that! It’s unavoidable. Each song is packed with emotion, and each note is stressed till your ear feels emotion. As Barnes perfectly describes it himself: “balance between really intense euphoria and this almost bleakness.”

Well i could have thought of that. But I couldn’t put it into words. Or music I guess. That’s why his worth this review. The biggest strength in Forest Swords‘ music is its fluidity. He can easily maneuver himself around his tracks, adding and subtracting loops, to make you feel like you’re riding a wave.

Barnes’ strong sense of flow lets him add new twists to his sound without forcing them in. On “Ljoss” he adds the the radio-static transmissions, the New Age piano on “Gathering”, the horn-section accents in “An Hour”, or the near-militaristic beat of ecstatic closer “Friend, You Will Never Learn”. But everything seems to fall into place and make it perfectly logical for all of these elements to be there. On of the more complex track of this album is “Onward”. A clang at the beginning, guitar riff, strings, pounding beat. All these things cramped together and still, it feels completely logical.

One of the most important differences and changes that you notice when you compare Dagger Paths with Engravings is the amount of singing and vocal samples. What? No? Maybe you didn’t notice because of Barnes’ knack to reduce a voice to a near indistinguishable level. It’s almost like the dead spirits of those voices rose up from the dead to chant a hymn for Engravings. The two tracks that highlight more clear and vivid singing are “Gathering”, which is nothing but overlapped singing for the first half, and “Anneka’s Battle”, where Brighton-based vocalist Anneka (strange he invited a guest on his album because when you hear his music it’s almost like a single person’s dream)  reveals Barnes’ brand of negative space R&B. Another perfect example for that is “Cold Nites”, the single he co-produced and co-wrote with How to Dress Well for his 2012 album Total Loss.

While Engravings scrapes the top of many genres, it cannot possibly belong to any single one of them, without sounding too alien for people to enjoy. And that’s why, in my opinion, it is such a success.

Listen to the two singles of the album “The Weight of Gold” and “Thor’s Stone”

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