It is always a challenge for artists to bring something new to the table in the over-saturated world of electro and dub, yet UK producer Matthew Barnes’ strikingly original and thoroughly refreshing new album Engravings offers to do so. The Wirral born, creative force behind Forest Swords spent a year on the sequel to Dagger Paths, mixing the album outdoors in the countryside in which he grew up. Although experiencing hearing problems that threatened his career, he has proven to be just as accurate as ever in his production and each lovingly crafted song is as confident in its sound as the next. It is a rarity for electronic music, which can often be mechanical and impersonal, to be as emotionally resonant, yet Barnes’ use of samples of his own voice and Brighton vocalist Anneka on ”Anneka’s Battle” brings back the essential human element.
However it is the intensely atmospheric sounds produced that is most astonishing. Managing to be both fresh and familiar, Barnes coaxes relatively mundane instruments to make remarkable sounds, and at times it is difficult to define exactly what it is you are listening to. Herein lies the genius of the album, both clear and obscure throughout, it makes for an enthralling listening experience. The distinctly sparse use of sound in places and bold use of repetitive and fidgety beats in songs such as ”Onward”, are reminiscent of playing an old scratched record, yet the confidence in which they are included make them seem completely right. This unapologetic directness does not seem arrogant but rather modest in that what is produced is personal, delicate and exceptionally diverse.
From sounds that range from orchestral to tribal and everything in-between, the blend from desolate to euphoric is seamless and as fluid and organic as the natural landscape that inspired him. Forest Swords, then, has single-handedly crafted a haunting electro environment of sound and soul, and with only Barnes as our guide this excitingly unsettling and beautiful album will cause listeners to journey back again and again for more.