Best albums of 2017 #8 Forest Swords – Compassion

Released on the Ninja Tune label.

Matthew Barnes probably isn’t alone as a producer in believing that “I just don’t think it can be really helped at the minute. I don’t think you can make an album…without the atmosphere sinking in”. The mood he’s referring to is the chaotic, violent, personality specific one of our recent times, an intermezzo from which many would like to retreat back into the relative comfort of the last decade, or beyond.

With his second album after 2013’s progressive and beguiling Engravings, Barnes used Whatsapp to distribute ideas and early versions of his work to fans who couldn’t wait to hear the final article, creating what he called a “hyper local” buzz for the material. The official release gave up a fully realised masterwork, one dominated by technology manipulated with dexterous consideration so that it sounded both industrial and futuristic, it’s grain pared away by a singular craftsman desperate to build art without edifice.

Since Engravings Barnes had spent time amongst other things recording work for the Assassins Creed series, and this ability to tell stories with sound is thematically espoused here throughout, whether in the epic cycle of closer Knife Edge, Border Margin Barrier’s decaying, timeless classicism or Panic’s raw, medieval r&b.

For someone working with tools that can shape and finesse sounds in the tiniest, claustrophobic spaces of our minds, Barnes revealed a particularly meta view of what he thought his music could achieve, an ambition where it was part of a story that offers¬† empathetic meaning in a storm cloud of the modern boogey man’s construction. As a weapon of this search for a new kind of peace, it’s a potent one.


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