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Forest Swords

The project of producer/visual artist Matthew Barnes, Forest Swords' intense beats and pensive moods blur the lines between moods and eras as well as genres. The project's early work, such as 2010's Dagger Paths EP, revealed that Barnes' music was as indebted to post-punk as it was to dub and hip-hop, but Forest Swords' horizons continued to expand on 2014's debut album Engravings and 2017's Compassion, which incorporated jazz, global, and classical music along with a more restrained approach. Barnes' somber fusion of the ancient and futuristic lent itself to scoring and soundtrack work perfectly, and he became a sought-after composer, working on projects ranging from Assassin's Creed: Rogue to the award-winning documentary Ghosts of Sugar Land. As renowned as Barnes became for his approach, the surprisingly dense and gritty -- but still hauntingly beautiful -- sound of 2023's Bolted burnished Forest Swords' reputation as a distinctive, yet continually surprising, creative force. As a teen, Barnes made four-track recordings, drawing inspiration not just from hip-hop and electronic music, but also from punk and pop groups such as Sugababes. He began issuing music as Forest Swords in 2009, including the self-released EP Fjree Feather and the cassette singles Miarches and Glory Gongs. The following year saw the release of the Rattling Cage single and the Dagger Paths EP, which received widespread critical acclaim and appeared on several 2010 best-of lists. Though the time seemed ripe for a Forest Swords full-length, Barnes' exacting standards and his tinnitus led him to work on new music slowly. During that time, he performed three specially commissioned pieces for the Abandon Normal Devices Festival in 2011, co-wrote and produced How to Dress Well's 2012 single Cold Nites, and continued working as a graphic designer. In June 2013, Forest Swords' first new music in nearly three years arrived in the form of "Thor's Stone," a more streamlined-sounding track that heralded the release of the debut album Engravings that August. Barnes mixed the album outdoors, heightening the airy yet immersive quality that earned Engravings critical acclaim. That November, Lee "Scratch" Perry remixed "Thor's Stone." Over the next few years, Barnes worked on scoring projects. These included the music for 2014's Assassin's Creed: Rogue; 2015's La Fête (Est Finie), a film about climate change that also featured music by Massive Attack and Young Fathers; 2016's In the Robot Skies, a sci-fi film shot entirely by drones; and that year's Shrine, a dance piece inspired by the human body that was released on Barnes' Dense Truth label. For Forest Swords' second album, Compassion, Barnes took inspiration from the political tumult of the late 2010s as well as the growing speed and flexibility of communication during this time. Arriving in May 2017 on Ninja Tune, Compassion blended virtual instruments with real ones and was hailed for its boundary blurring experiments; the album reached number 37 on the U.K. Independent Albums chart. Later in the year, Forest Swords released "Congregate"/"Free," a pair of songs from the album's sessions that benefited relief work in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The following year, Barnes compiled an entry of !K7's DJ-Kicks series that traced his influences from post-punk and dub to techno and avant-garde compositions, along with an exclusive track and brief field recordings. For several years, Barnes devoted himself to collaborations with other artists. These included the score to Bassam Tariq's award-winning 2019 short documentary Ghosts of Sugar Land and the soundtrack to Liam Young's film The Machine Air. In 2020, he co-produced a song on Ellie Goulding's Brightest Blue and composed the music for choreographer Emma Portner's first ballet Islands, which premiered at the Oslo Opera House. The following year, Barnes created the soundtrack for visual artist Thomas Dosal's exhibition Ghost Light at Aachen, Germany's NAK and reunited with Young, scoring the multi-media installation Planet City in Melbourne, Australia. In 2022, he composed and performed the soundtrack to the video game As Dusk Falls and scored Melanie Manchot's first feature film Stephen before starting work on Forest Swords' third album. Recorded in a Liverpool factory space while Barnes recovered from a painful leg injury, October 2023's tense, claustrophobic Bolted juxtaposed distorted chromatic percussion with woodwind melodies and vocals that included a previously unused sample of Neneh Cherry's voice.
© Heather Phares /TiVo


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