Forest Swords

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Dagger Paths (2010) , 6.5/10 (EP)
Engravings (2013), 6/10
Compassion (2017), 6/10

Forest Swords, the project of English electronic dubstep artist Matthew Barnes, debuted with the single Rattling Cage (No Pain In Pop, 2010) and the EP Dagger Paths (No Pain In Pop, 2010). Miarches is an ecosystem in evolution, as the jarring digital soundscape with stuttering beats and bursts of effeminate vocals, gives rise to an anthemic guitar riff. The reliance on a sloppy lo-fi slocore production and on a collage-srt of composition is even more evident in the eight-minute Hoylake Misst whose hypnotic guitar riff succumbs to shamanic voices, burbling sound effects, voodoo drums that get increasingly booming, and grotesque trombone-like electronic melodies. On the other hand, Visits is the dubstep equivalent of a garage-rock rave-up, all muffled and slowed down. At the other (liquefied) end of the spectrum Glory Gongs exhales spaghetti-western licks in an orgy of acid reverbs.

Engravings (Tri Angle, 2013) is a vastly more cinematic work. Ljoss pivots around a Ennio Morricone-style spaghetti-western theme. The multi-exotic fantasia Thor's Stone harks back to the "transglobal dance" movement of the 1990s (Transglobal Underground, Loop Guru, Banco De Gaia, TUU). The film-noir soundtracks of the 1960s reawaken in Irby Tremor, merely coupled with a pulsating funk line. Some of the "fusion" experiments are cute, like The Weight of Gold: Chinese-tinged zither melody, gloomy voodoo drumbeat and dub psychedelia. But too many ideas, while intriguing, don't seem fulfilled, from the vocal puzzle of Gathering to the shamanic invocation The Plumes. It takes forever for Onward to get started, and, when it does, it simply hums a romantic melody. Closer Friend You Will Never Learn is a nostalgic Afro-dub adagio that perhaps summarizes Barnes' retro philosophy.

Shrine (Dense Truth, 2016) collects music for dance.

The album Compassion (Ninja Tune, 2017) contains mostly instrumental music characterized by cinematic suspense that is both ominous and stately. Emblematic are the ambient Brian Eno-esque vignettes War It and Border Margin Barrier, with a psychological peak perhaps in the haunting soundscape of Vandalism, a piece that emanates a sense of infinite void via a strategic deployment of sax and voice. The mini-requiem of Sjurvival is potentially even better but ends way too soon. A chopped-up choir is like a ghostly apparition in The Highest Flood, while its rhythm sounds like a typewriter being hit randomly. An extreme melancholy pervades Panic after a xylophone introduces a Middle-eastern chant and a violin reinforces it. The use of clipped samples is a bit too facile in Exalter and Arms Out. Raw Language is busier but none of the many instrumental detours harmonizes with the sampled vocals. Too many of these pieces feel like amateurish collages. The piano sonata Knife Edge is an odd way to end the album, and reinforces the feeling of an amateurish effort.

Barnes also scored the soundtrack for the experimental film The Machine Air (2019), recorded by flying drones, made by the Australian-born London-based architect Liam Young.

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(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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