Matthew Barnes, the singular figure behind the UK’s Forest Swords, borrows minute bits and pieces of various genres, from dubstep’s sparse, yet booming beats, to folk’s lo-fi aesthetic, to post-punk’s dark and abrasive guitar melodies. Forest Swords, on the whole, however, doesn’t quite fit in with any of these existing sounds, an amalgam of various and disparate parts that fit together perfectly, despite their diverse origins. A Pandora’s Box of all things dense and eerie, Forest Sword’s 2010 EP Dagger Paths assembles an ominous yet spacey army of sonic specters, swirling in unholy yet stunning alliance.
Though Dagger Paths is technically an EP, at 34 minutes long, it pushes quite close to album length, its massive songs stretching out at epic length, only two of them maintaining a running time below six minutes. But there’s nothing labored about these six tracks; for a track like “Miarches” or “Holylake Mist,” six or seven minutes is by no means excessive. These songs breathe and unfold, allowing new aspects to reveal themselves over time, the compositions pulling the listener ever deeper into their dub-laden underworld. Yet the intrigue is far more immediate. A song like “Glory Gongs” may build and expand at length, but its The Cure-meets-King Tubby aesthetic is instantly arresting. And while atmosphere may be Barnes’ endgame, his rhythmic, pulsing songs are far from slight or abstract. Even below a heavy dose of reverb, the R&B croon of “If Your Girl” is distinct and direct, a hypnotic yet no less melodic slab of soul-gaze.
The funny thing about Forest Swords is that despite Barnes’ abstract aesthetic and love of effects and sonic obscurity, practically everything on Dagger Paths is accessible, strongly melodic, even catchy. This isn’t dubstep, witch-house, chillwave, post-punk, R&B or folk, and yet it’s all of these things, made creepier and far more interesting. Matthew Barnes may prefer to inject some mystery into his music, but one need not solve it to enjoy its gorgeous otherworldliness.
Burial – Untrue
How to Dress Well – How to Dress Well
The Cure – Seventeen Seconds
Listen: Forest Swords: MySpace
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.