I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while. FOREST SWORDS (aka Matt Barnes) has been an artist that’s tingled my radar for a while now. I remember when hearing about his first EP, ‘Dagger Paths,’ along the hypnagogic trail a few years back and the mix of heavy dub and twanging desert guitar was at once both interesting and unusual compared to the usual crumpled muffled tape-through-a-hedge sound that was the staple of the H-pop canon at the time. .
But what really intrigued me was that he came from West Kirby in the Wirral. You see my family (On me mum’s side), all live a few miles down the road in a small village town called Moreton and it’s not every day you get a top-notch musician on your doorstep! I know West Kirby and The Wirral very well. And at first glance it doesn’t seem the sort of environment that could foster and nurture such deep, craggy music that had a weird urban vibe to it. West Kirby is a rather suburban and middle class location nestled next to a large international class golf course. Meanwhile in terms of gigs or nightlife, you’re not exactly spoilt for choice in the Wirral. It’s a bit of a barren outpost with lots of shitty chain bar/clubs and very little in terms of live music. It’s great if you fancy a cheap beer down the Wetherspoons though.
But if you stretch away from these spots, then the area is full of quiet country lanes, farmland and looooong shore paths, with huge offshore wind farm vistas visible from the concrete sea defences. It’s the sort of beguiling semi-rural landscape where you would take your dog for a lengthy amble to lose yourself in your thoughts and let time fold and slip over yourself.
‘Engravings,’ his long awaited debut album is full of crusted, arcane sounds, with wooden rhythm blocks that have been broken apart and taped back together so that they resemble a breakbeat made by a craft group from the local historical society. All the earthy aesthetics are in abundance with this record. Branches and foliage move to the winds, while the ground is soft and yielding underfoot. Meanwhile local faith groups though the ages chant and make wordless offerings to whomever is the power running through the soil and dirt at the time. Real cabalistic shit you’ve got here.
Since I received my copy of ‘Engravings’ arrived though the letterbox, I’ve got to say that Matt has really built on his early sound. True there are still the dub leaning and trip hop motifs, but whereas ‘Dagger Paths’ had a sparse minimal sound, there’s a lot more at play going on with these songs. Sounds that lurk in the background, riffs that pull you in. I’m loving. Two tracks in particular stand out. “The Weight Of Gold” has a great intro, with its blustery winds and its guitar as the calling signal to the local tribe before it leads into some dub breaks and disembodied vocals is just brilliant. Meanwhile the album closer, “Friend, You Will Never Learn,” is just as mossy with some wonderful gospel choruses attached. Perfect for a dusk walk along the concrete shores.