Forest Swords Forest SwordsDagger Paths
I hadn’t heard of the Olde English Spelling Bee label, but one day I came across a compressed folder in .zip format that included the six songs of an EP called “Dagger Paths”, put out by someone or something named Forest Swords. I listened to it intrigued and dismayed: I didn’t know what it was very well, if it belonged to the world of psychedelic folk or to that of neoclassical with soundtrack influences; if it was an album close to hypnagogic pop—it was very fashionable at the beginning of the year to use the word all the time, as it is now, but now it seems normal to us to write about such strange concepts—or if it had come from Mars. In reality, Forest Swords came from closer by, from a tree-covered land, because that’s what the name of the project indicates. A single person, Mike Barnes, was behind all of this, a person far removed from cities and noise, with a small home studio in Wirral; if you don’t know where that is, it’s in northern England, a narrow strip of land jutting out into the see pointing to Ireland. Barnes was, then, an absolute mystery, removed from the city and from people: nothing was known of his origins, his work, or his motivations. Let’s say it better: it was known—because there are pages that say so—that he had put out two cassettes in 2009 on American labels. ( “Glory Gongs” and “Miarches”, in reality two singles with one song on each side), and that this record on Olde English Spelling Bee was his first LP attempt (it was longer than half an hour).
I admit that I listened to that music and I acted clumsily. I was unable to see at first how very different it sounded from everything else that I knew, and how much beauty (as well as mystery) was radiated by those walls of samples that looked like a soundtrack for a crepuscular western. Many of the comments that have been made about Forest Swords identify Barnes’ sound with that of Ennio Morricone. Of course, although it also seems familiar to me with respect to what Richard Skelton does, especially when he manipulates acoustic instruments, like the e-bow guitar, to achieve prolonged sounds that pass through your ears as if they were curtains. Forest Swords, on the other hand, is much richer than Skelton in the complexity of construction and acoustic sources. He is also much less truculent. I don’t think that Forest Swords is led by internal pain, but it is rather a well-developed antenna that leads him to everything that transmits density and something of mystery. He isn’t a dubstep artist, not by a long shot, but once in awhile ( “Holylake Mist”, for example), the thickness of the bass dominates the piece’s humour. Beyond that, in “Visits”, it is the rhythmic, resonating guitars that take charge, and you might think of a drone artist, an apocalyptic folk-singer, or a doom metal sorcerer’s apprentice. None of Forest Swords’s creations adapt to set patterns, and this is at first frustrating and later fortunate. The digestion is slow—it doesn’t take days, but rather weeks—and it makes all the sense in the world that it be No Pain In Pop, a hypnagogia label in terms of its trajectory and intentions, who has finally released it on CD. Time had to go by for us to realise the diamond in the rough that was hidden in that record (or in that .zip), and the 7” “Rattling Cage” had to come out, with two more inspiring demonstrations of talent, to make it necessary to look back.
The new version of “Dagger Paths” corresponds to the expanded modality: the original record is there along with the two cuts from “Rattling Cage”. This is where the best is at: all of this plays again on a larger scale, the music becomes more spectral and suggestive than it was then. Basically, with each new listening, your orientation is better—like in the forests that form a part of his alias once you have become familiar with the labyrinth of trunks—and you begin to see the order in all of that apparent nonsense, that aesthetic hodgepodge. And more so with the addition—only for this edition—of a 70-minute bonus CD containing dispersed or previously unreleased material. One clarification: it isn’t a double pack, but rather this CD is a gift that simultaneously increases the pleasure and the incoherence of the whole. The final mark would vary in function of whether this hodgepodge is taken as a reference: it would be lower (not very much), but because it gives us a more precise image of his mind and confirms that the best of Barnes is yet to come. Here is his first unreleased demo ( “Fjree Feather EP”, pure documentary testimony to the larva that would later become the butterfly) and a mega-mix of influences and home edits in which, with his own hands, he touches up, for example These New Puritans and Becoming Real: between the film epic and gloomy dubstep, more landscape than pop. And along the way, remixes of Pariah and, again, Becoming Real. Here we have someone called to write fascinating music. Those who have seen in him Burial in the town of Deadwood have reached the heart of the mystery: the final revelation is so beautiful that it is terrifying.