Forest Swords’ music belongs in the soundtrack to the most beautifully shot, subtly menacing Samurai movie ever.
Forest Swords’ music strongly evokes the band’s title. It is experimental music that sounds at once natural, clean-cut, beautiful, and dangerous. Listen to “The Weight of Gold” and see if you don’t just picture two old veterans of the Warring States Period gearing up for their big showdown.
Matthew Barnes is a UK producer, but his textures sound Eastern, although this is perhaps by chance more than by design. In an interview in 2013 he described,
“I called by new album Engravings because I’m interested in music as mark-making, and the idea of etching a body of work that’s not tied to any specific moment in time or trend, and that exists permanently in its own space.”
Barnes is an electronic producer who records outside, rather than within the confines of a dark solitary room. On Engravings, his incredible debut LP, he limits himself to elementary methods and harsh, organic sounds that evoke harsh landscapes. His songs build slowly, often opening with just one or two near-dissonant elements in tension with each other. Then, he’ll add in an evocative guitar riff, a clattering drum, or some radio fuzziness, or his own voice crying out. Each simple, elementary addition finds its place naturally in this strange ensemble, until somehow Barnes has realized a complex, multilayered, and balanced composition. The listener can get into the groove, in spite of its disparate elements, but this is music that doesn’t just get an emotional response, it evokes a stark, nameless place that is all Barnes’ own.
How to Listen
Starting out? Forests Sword’s grounded style is at its best on Thor’s Stone. The song opens with a drum beat, a low pulse, and some shooting electric notes. Soon, Barnes adds in the horns, then more drums, and finally the voices. These elements are dropped out, mixed around, and weaved together to create some amazing beats and textures you won’t find anywhere else in modern music.
For the brave: If you think you like Forest Swords so far, or if you want to see if you can stomach the most dissonant compositions he’s crafted, “Onward” and “Gathering” each have loud, sharp, and uncomfortable elements that Barnes mashes together. “Onward” opens with two minutes of the same repetitive clang, while “Gathering” uses scraping high vocal shots. Each of these songs is extremely creative and builds to a totally beautiful conclusion, but they require a resilient ear.
The Masterpiece: “The Weight of Gold” is my favorite Forest Swords song. It has the most patient, beautiful horn introduction, before paying off with a beautiful descending guitar riff, and adding in the drums, and horns at perfect increments.