Musing on the future and musing on the present are much closer processes than we’d like to imagine. We think of ourselves thinking of the future as a special capacity, unlinking what is to come and how we perceive it from the ways in which we lead our day to day lives, the weird reality in which we live in. One of the functions of art (good art, that is) is to couple what was uncoupled and shine a light on how what is it to come is mirrored in our present situations. Forest Swords has always excelled at this; the one man project’s approach to ambiance and electronics echoes with the haunting presence of what is now and the ways in which it is constantly flowering into what will be. In the process of conveying these ideas, the project utilizes a cavernous approach to sound, populating the spaces between its thunderous drums with rust-tinged electronics, cut off synth lines and other tools which serve to portray a lonesome, barren reality still somehow filled with dream.
Compassion doubles down on the sparse and the distilled, presenting an unsettling vision of electronic music which constantly flirts with dance-able structures but never quite gives into them. “War It”‘s latter passages are a perfect example of this, as the first track on the album closes with what sounds like a natural EDM buildup but one which never ends up actualizing or delivering payoff. This “severed” approach to what electronics do of course raises countless questions surrounding modernity; if someone looks and feels like one thing, in what ways is it another? This question runs all through Compassion. You can find it hiding right after “War It”, with the forlorn and disassembled vocal samples crying over thick synths textures and snappy drums, constantly calling back to that jarring sense of expression that Forest Swords wields so will.
As an album, Compassion is expertly constructed. Following the prominence of the signature drum sound on the first few tracks, a more somber middle of the album ensues (crowned by the breathtaking drone vibes of “Border Margin Barrier” which reminds one of the interludes on a Crowns release). The strength of delivery returns on what is probably Forest Sword’s best track to date, “Vandalism”. Those huge drums are back and this time, their “upper” layers are made up of eerie, melancholic cries that mimic brass instruments/vocals and piano/guitar arrangements which do much to capitalize on the sense of bereavement and strange wonder that permeates through the track (and the album). These arrangements are then followed up by another snippet, a beat that could almost be found in a club but which, of course, rather fades into more melancholy a la 65daysofstatic instead of turning into a rave-worthy scorcher.
Presented after the more drawn out middle passages, “Vandalism” is a perfect encapsulation of what Forest Swords does so well; he toys with the almost, the things being-born but never quite achieving life, the modern lies of object, simulacra and the future. This trend continues with the following “Raw Language”, once again echoing familiar beats to the tune of off-kilter instruments. This incomplete and shattered imitation creates an unsettling sense of being home and a stranger at the same time. It also makes for highly effective music as the medium of post rock, electronica, drone and ambiance all work together to present a release steaming with its own life and twisted aesthetic. Rust, decay, and a strange sense of hope and wonder exude from Compassion and firmly solidify Forest Swords as one of the best electronic artists working today. His albums are much more than just “electronic”; they are eerily prophetic, foreseeing both the future and the present.
Compassion was released on May 5th and you’re doing yourself a great disservice by not listening to it. Go remedy that over at the project’s Bandcamp.