Forest Swords: “Dagger Paths”

The set-up of this piece is a bit out of date, since I wrote it a month ago for the current issue of Uncut. Nevertheless, worth running here I think, not least because I've subsequently discovered Forest Swords' "Dagger Paths" is getting a CD release in the UK on No Pain In Pop.

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The set-up of this piece is a bit out of date, since I wrote it a month ago for the current issue of Uncut. Nevertheless, worth running here I think, not least because I’ve subsequently discovered Forest Swords‘ “Dagger Paths” is getting a CD release in the UK on No Pain In Pop.

Woke up this morning to the pretty good news that The xx had won the Mercury Prize (see what I mean about out of date?). For those who are feeling anxious about some data from Music Week released the other day – only five of this year’s Top 100 singles classify as ‘rock’, apparently – The xx’s triumph will probably be hyped up as some great ray of hope in an embattled market.


Not that The xx could particularly be categorised as rock, of course, but at least they’ve had the audacity to reconfigure various bits of minimalist R&B with spindly indie guitars. If indie/urban crossovers have often sounded determinedly lively – desperately so, perhaps – theirs is a fresher, pointedly downbeat attempt at a hybrid. It’s not the sort of thing to traditionally set an A&R pulse racing, but I can’t help thinking there might be a vague hunt on for The New xx over the next few months.

The heart sinks at the sort of lower-case rubbish that might be dished up as cutting-edge as a result. But if anyone is daring enough to check some of the skankier areas of the British underground, there’s just a chance they might fish out the excellent Forest Swords.

Since Forest Swords’ debut album, Dagger Paths, was released earlier in the year, information about its provenance has remained sketchy. The sleeve reveals that Dagger Paths was recorded “on the Wirral Peninsula and Liverpool, UK”, and that someone called M Barnes wrote all but one of the tunes. The exception is “If Your Girl Only Knew”, a Missy Elliott and Timbaland song originally recorded by that pivotal influence on The xx, Aaliyah.


Like The xx – and I promise I’ll drop the comparison imminently – Forest Swords applies a spectral, gothic quality to R&B, but unlike The xx, he surrounds the song in a sort of psychedelic murk. Dagger Paths, in general, has an appealingly dank air (one track is evocatively titled “Hoylake Misst”), a sense of uncanny musical ritual being enacted in a wet English suburb. The opening “Miarches”, in particular, sounds like someone plugging in and jamming along to a Burial record in their bedroom; a mix of dubstep and stoned dronerock that looks contrived on paper, but turns out to be rather compelling in practice.

Dagger Paths crept out on the arcane US vinyl label, Olde English Spelling Bee, but a single, “Rattling Cage”, has recently appeared on the London indie, No Pain In Pop. This one, with its sluggish reggae rhythm, creaking organ and heavy dub fx, firmly positions Forest Swords as a forlorn English analogue to Sun Araw, Cameron Stallones’ sticky project out of Southern California that I championed at length in Uncut 157.

Also worth looking out for this month is a new EP from Rick Tomlinson’s Voice Of The Seven Thunders. Their self-titled album has been a big favourite since it was released at the start of the year, a dextrous and rousing blend of various psychedelic strains (Anatolian, Swedish, Germanic, acid-folk and so on) that’s deservedly found a place in the longlist of nominations for the Uncut Music Award.

Tomlinson currently seems to be running with veteran avant-gardists Nurse With Wound (and compilers, in 1979, of a legendarily outlandish list of esoteric music), who he apparently played live with in May. Now, Nurse With Wound’s Andrew Liles has remixed four Seven Thunders tracks for an EP, “The Blue Comet Mixes”.

To be honest, my knowledge of Nurse With Wound is sketchy, but these four tracks are superb, extending Tomlinson’s freakouts with all manner of Kraut buzz and free skronk, and sounding nothing like the industrial gruel with which the NWW brand – perhaps erroneously – tends to be associated.


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