Compassion by Forest Swords

Release date: May 5, 2017
Label: Ninja TUne

Matthew Barnes returns with the follow up to his groundbreaking album Engravings. When Engravings came out it had a significant impact on me. I wasn’t really listening to much similar sounding music and was more focused on heavier, guitar based music.

Something about the press release sparked an interest for me and I dived in, always open minded to different sounds. Truth is it blew me away, became a firm favourite and coincided or sparked a total change in my listening habits. I went back to previous favourites like Sabres of Paradise, DJ Shadow and sought new artists pushing the boundaries in sound or electronic music. Engravings still is one of my most listened to albums and one I recommend to anyone regardless of their tastes.

It was with much excitement and a little apprehension I approached Compassion for the first listen. My fear was it could never live up to the greatness of Engravings or would abandon the sounds that made me love it so much. As it turns out I needn’t have worried, Compassion expands but never strays from the sound of Engravings and if anything incredibly betters it.

From the opening muted brass samples and clanging beats of “War It” it is apparent Barnes is treading familiar ground. However everything feels more cinematic, expansive and sweeter. That’s not to say its sleek or watered down, it maintains the gritty earthy feel. Tracks like “Vandalism” however with it’s sweeping orchestral swells and lush melodies feel gigantic.

A lot of Compassion feels like a score to your favourite classic film and would be worthy of soundtracking epic scenery or dramatic adventures. Possibly time Barnes spent working with Massive Attack and studying different approaches to music, dance and art has honed his already considerable talent.

Compassion is simply magnificent, already a firm favourite to be my album of the year with not a dull moment or wasted second. In fact every second of it sounds like it has been taken apart, studied, debated, and agonised over before being placed together again to create the perfect sound. That it does this while still sounding soulful, exciting and gritty is astonishing.

The previously released trio of singles are among highlights but each track here has the potential to be a favourite. The somber closer “Knife Edge” and “Sjurvival” in particular are like the sound of a weeping planet, poisoned by it’s inhabitants and sickened by their actions. “Exalter” and “Raw Language” are lighter in feel with the former carrying an infectious hip hop bounce. Each track complements the next and the album length and pacing is perfect. Barnes continues to used sampled vocals cut up beyond recognition with the emphasis on the feel of the words rather than their clarity. The are swells of brass, orchestral flourishes, dub influenced rhythms and tribal percussion all woven throughout the album.

Barnes has a habit of recording outside as much as possible and it shows on Compassion as often it feels it must be hugely influenced by nature, weather and his surroundings. Barnes in my view is a genius, worthy of all the acclaim he should receive, and Compassion is flawless.

Compassion is available via Ninja Tune and Forest Swords is embarking on a tour with dates listed on social media accounts

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