Forest Swords: Dagger Paths

By , Nov 26 2010

Available on: Olde English Spelling Bee LP / No Pain in Pop CD

It’s weird, in listening to music, how easy it can it be to forget about the musicians who make it – to focus only on the sound itself, rather than all the human activity that went into making it. Dagger Paths never lets you forget that. Like an old blues recording, this is physical music, with all the flesh and blood craft laid bare. Behind every one of the Morricone-ish riffs, you can hear a hand patiently scraping across guitar strings, the sound echoing around the room it was recorded in (a small room, it sounds like… maybe a bedroom?). For all the heavy studio treatment – those gorgeous, dubby World of Echo submarine blips, or the hazy snatches of song – this is pretty much as raw and intimate as it gets.

Dagger Paths was originally released on vinyl earlier this year. It’s the debut album from this one-man recording project based in the Wirral. For the UK CD release, there’s a shift in labels from Olde English Spelling Bee to No Pain in Pop, and the addition of the two tracks from Forest Swords’ excellent recent 7”. With the gauzy textures and sensual fuzzy gasps, Burial and Fennesz are immediate reference points. But the more you live with the record, the more starkly a distinctive, brutally minimalist aesthetic comes to the fore. In a strange way, Dagger Paths is most akin to doom metal, but with all the power stripped out to reveal a naked, vulnerable core. As Forest Swords plugs away relentlessly at his glacial riffs, with percussion bursting through like artillery fire, there’s this really affecting sense of being witness to some very private act of catharsis. This is an overwhelmingly sad record, but at the same time a curiously hopeful one – the stunning cover of Aaliyah’s ‘If Your Girl’, for example, is all dying-ember drones and ghostly hums until it suddenly flutters away into an almost ecstatic crescendo.

The Wirral is a strange, great place (there’s some nice pictures in the album artwork). It’s a place where the surreal and the everyday brush up together; seaside resorts left stranded now that the sea has retreated for miles, and the North Wales hills looming through mist, over sprawling suburbs. Mirroring that, throughout Dagger Paths the otherworldly is intertwined with prosaic reality. And it’s that, I think, that makes this such a special record. However alien and beautiful these sounds are, you always see the guy alone in his room bringing them to life.

Simon Hampson

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