Forest Swords, ostensibly producer Matthew Barnes, has created quite a buzz, and he's not done it with much. That he's done it from The Wirral is more remarkable still, and No Pain In Pop certainly agree, having given Dagger Paths this expanded re-release.
Consisting of isolated beats in oceans of echo, it has noticeably low bpm, and, co-incidentally rather than with any intent, it seems to crash the anti-clutter of The xx into the dubbed atmospherics of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack - crash however is the wrong verb; it implies too much speed. Dagger Paths is all about slow-motion capture. This is a high-definition release, though one a world away from cosy, commercial sound-tracking.
On "Miarches", a synthesised vocal adds soulful textures to a mildly industrial bed of dubbed beats that pits ponderous bass against chiming guitar. Next, "Hoylake Mist" houses a lingering guitar progression that echoes out across clicking percussion and monolithic drumming. A similar template is adopted throughout, with "Glory Gongs" hanging in suspension between clipped vocal samples and whispering electronics.
Later, a barely-there cover of Aaliyah's "If Your Girl Only Knew" isn't at all recognisable and simmers, largely drifting in from mid-distance on sleepy breezes of melody. Then, "The Light" again finds a winning formula with stripped acoustics, fizzing drone and iconic repeats. It recalls, perhaps, a 21st century Ennio Morricone, such is Barnes' vision to fill his space not only with sound, but also silence.
Though unquestionably impressive, the original Olde English Spelling Bee release of Dagger Paths came without the addition of the recent dubbed-out single "Rattling Cage", nor its equally emotive flip "Hjurt". And these two tracks, tagged on it terms of running order, still manage nevertheless to overshadow the original EP, very much bolstering it with their addition.
Finding common ground with the recent bog-eyed heroics of Sun Araw, "Rattling Cage" throws some organ in the mix amid the track's skipping beats and echoing chimes. The revelation however is the heavily-psyched vocal, which, now plucked from the mix and placed on a pedestal, comes to define Forest Swords' direction. "Hjurt" then hits like a reconstruction drawn from memory. You know it's related, yet time has ebbed and flowed it around allowing it to evolve to stand as its own specimen.
Burial found his niche in urban claustrophobia; Forest Swords has done the exact opposite. Dagger Paths is so wide-screen it's frightening.
An incredible debut from the elusive Matthew Barnes' Forest Swords, `Daggers Path' fuses drone/folk/lo-fi undertones with modern R'nB and dubstep's use of rhythm and space. A mixture of Burial, Pan American and Ennio Morricone is close to describing Barnes' sound, songs with soulful ghostly vocals, melancholy landscapes and urban paranoia.
I have to admit that when i first heard the EP when it was initially released, i didn't find it very interesting. But then came the superb single `Rattling cage', my favourite single of 2010, and i quickly went back to the album to try it again. For some reason it just made more sense this time, i don't know why! Barnes' guitar sound is wiry, stabbed, reverb-heavy low-end bolts of noise. Add some forceful, rumbling basslines and a subtle use of space and echo reminiscent of the best of Jamaican dub, which work so well on tracks like `Hoylake Misst' with its beating rhythms, warped percussion and guitar drones. Album highlight `Hjurt' floats and hisses for five blissful minutes. `The last 2 tracks, "If Your Girl" and "The Light.", are more textural ghostly treatments, the latter a more propulsive decaying sound reminiscent of early Third Eye Foundation. Forest Swords has been building a loyal following and long may it continue, a delightful record.