Forest Swords – Compassion Review

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Forest Swords' new album, Compassion, guides us through the darkness.
Ninja Tune, 2017
Purchase: Amazon

7.0 / 10

Matthew Barnes, aka Forest Swords, seeks to create a glowing beacon in a land of darkness with his new album, Compassion. Barnes states in the press for the album, “Like many, with all that’s been going on since I started making the record, I’ve struggled to see any kind of light at the end of the tunnel.” Compassion aims to be that light; however, finding it isn’t so easy. Much like any journey through a dark labyrinth or collapsed wreckage, it’s often a vicious struggle. However, when that light is finally seen (or in this case, heard), it’s a beautiful feeling. One of all-encompassing hope.

For much of its early beginning, Compassion is deep in the darkness. Its three opening songs, “War It”, “The Highest Flood”, and “Panic” all seemingly instill a sense of dread. Barnes combines live instrumentation with digital and field recordings to give his compositions plenty of action. They breathe with life, and sometimes it’s a lot to process. Horns and broken vocal chattering can be heard on “The Highest Flood”. The voices sound as if they’re singing a song, but it often goes in and out of audio. The effect is much like nodding off to sleep while the television is on. However, it feels like a reality that you can’t escape by sleeping it away. “Panic” takes the vocals a step further by including an actual discernible verse, “I fear something’s wrong/ Panic is coming.” Well, that can’t be good, right?

But if we journey back into that dark labyrinth or wreckage that we’re trying to escape from, our hope remains intact. We stick with trying to find a way out; to find a glimmer of light. Compassion does reward the search with songs like “Arms Out” and “Raw Language”. The latter is the closest here to a dance track. Vibrant synths and jazzy horns give it an inimitable energy. Just what we need to press on to Compassion’s final song, “Knife Edge”. Opening with a mournful piano melody, the song gains a momentum of determination. Forward we push…until…finally, the light.

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