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Forest Swords - Dagger Paths CD

Forest Swords - Dagger Paths CD

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If there's any space left between micro-genres like witch house/drag, hauntology, hypnagogic pop/chillwave, and drone-step, Matthew Barnes has found it. Forest Swords, the UK producer's one-man project, conjures many ideas associated with those tags-- faded memories, ghostly auras, dream states. His music sometimes feels built from allusions and reference points, but the connections to sources are so elusive that Dagger Paths sounds singular first and evocative of something else second.

For me, that "something else" is often another artist who has snuck into a stylistic crevice, Mark Nelson, the Labradford member who works solo as Pan American. Like Nelson, Barnes is adept at picking simple rhythms and sounds, repeating them at a pace both languid and insistent, and folding in texture and volume until each piece becomes sneakily dense. Both also prefer wiry, reverb-heavy guitars, which charge their songs like lightning inside a cloud. But where Pan American can sometimes softly float away, Forest Swords is rarely hazy or indistinct. Most of Barnes' sounds are clear-- take opener "Miarches" whose echoes are big and bold, less like drifting fog than brisk wind.

That boldness comes partially from Barnes' interest in techno, hip-hop, and R&B. Those influences give him a strong sense of beat and a knack for forceful bass lines. The R&B strain in particular lurks in the background of everything here-- but in case you miss it among the reflecting guitars and rumbling beats, Barnes makes it explicit in an abstract take on Aaliyah's "If Your Girl Only Knew". Prioritizing bass over beat, letting every sound decay and dissolve, Barnes crafts a dying echo of the original, as if he hoped to erase it from his memory *Eternal Sunshine-*style.

What sticks in my mind after listening to Dagger Paths is its visual nature. When I get wrapped up in one of Barnes' tracks, I picture shadowy figures, found filmstrips, or TV movies fuzzed by tape wear. Barnes' videos are actually clearer and simpler than that (though "The Light" is almost exactly what I imagined), but they all use old footage to reflect the music's sense of dislocation. But it would be wrong to peg Barnes to one set of images or sounds-- my guess is he can do a lot more, and his new single, "Rattling Cage", has a dubby, Sun Araw vibe. As long as he keeps making music this blurrily evocative and vividly pictorial, any direction he takes will be the right one.


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