It’s hard to place Compassion, the third album by Liverpool-based producer and artist Matthew Barnes aka Forest Swords – but then that’s largely down to Barnes himself. Apparently something of a gateway to a variety of forthcoming multidisciplinary projects centred around it – including contemporary dance, performance art, film and publishing – as a record it feels like the context is yet to play out.
Therefore the ten tracks here shouldn’t be viewed in stasis. It’s easy to imagine the distorting keys and brass-bound structures of The Highest Flood taking new forms in the future for instance, likewise the tension-filled orchestral flourishes and retractions of Vandalism. That sense of anxiety is a prominent spectre throughout, unsurprising given Compassion responds to the same inescapable global turmoil currently engulfing us all.
Key too is the stark chasm between two dominating sound palettes – full, rich, emotional orchestration stands off against sinewy programmed beats, with found sounds and sampled voices forming the loosest of cords between them.
However, there’s a lot of movement within these cornerstones, while ambition of this album shouldn’t be confused with obtuseness. Poignancy overrides abrasion, such as on the mournful bleakness of Sjurvival, and hooks rise above the textural murkiness – Panic’s urgent refrain of 'I fear something’s wrong, the panic is on' lingers in the memory. Compassion may not feel complete yet, but it’s an exciting portent of what may yet come.
Listen to: Panic, Sjurvival
Buy Forest Swords - Compassion on LP/CD from Norman Records