The project of producer/graphic designer Matthew Barnes, Forest Swords fashions hip-hop-inspired beats with atmospheric samples and evocative guitar work into dreamlike tracks that evoke the windy coastal terrain of his home in England's Wirral Peninsula. 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 slowly on new music. 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. 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. Compassion arrived in 2017 on Ninja Tune. 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.
© Heather Phares /TiVo
© Heather Phares /TiVo
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Electronic - Released May 18, 2018 | !K7 Records
Like several other editions of !K7's long-running DJ-Kicks series, Forest Swords' installment is far from being a traditional, flawlessly beatmatched DJ mix. Instead, it's an eclectic selection that picks apart the producer's influences, presented in the style of someone like John Peel rather than a typical club DJ. More often than not, he'll make beatless, dreamlike transitions or loop a brief rhythmic section and tumble into the next track rather than match up tempos. The first few selections are experimental pieces that focus on shifting dynamics and floating drones, some of which may seem uncomfortably sparse at first. The beat-driven portion of the mix begins with Rhythm & Sound's "Best Friend," a minimal dub track with heartbreaking lyrics about betrayal from Love Joy. Things start to get a bit more turbulent with the crunchy, abstract drum'n'bass of "The Truths" by Tokyo Prose & Fis. After a vintage Dead Can Dance track comes an exclusive Forest Swords original, "Crow," which demonstrates how much dread and suspense he can conjure up with just a midtempo thump and a few distorted tones. The rest of the mix's midsection drifts between prickly IDM (Disjecta, Mira Calix) and complex, emotive techno (Pantha du Prince, Djrum), dovetailing into junkshop chaos with Demdike Stare's "Mnemosyne" and revisiting Orbital's all-time classic "The Box." The mix's final portion moves far away from electronic music, flipping from the arresting voices of the London Bulgarian Choir to the fragile folk of Vashti Bunyan to the captivating water drums of the Baka Forest People of Southeast Cameroon, and while all of these pieces sound wonderful, their juxtaposition at the end of the mix sounds somewhat random. Still, as a whole, Forest Swords' DJ-Kicks is a worthwhile excursion in the genre-agnostic spirit of great free-form radio. © Paul Simpson /TiVo