Sach O’s the masked avenger…here to sharpen your swords (one).
Forest Swords must’ve slipped through the cracks here at Passion of the Weiss HQ. I don’t know how it happened exactly, you’d think a project best described as “dubbed out cinematic psych-rock” would have a bunch of us playing rock-paper-scissors for a chance to cover it… but nope. Maybe it’s because Englishman Mike Barnes’ project ignores just as many stylistic boxes as it checks: it’s too organic and guitar based to be considered electronic music, too dark and forward looking to qualify for chillwave nostalgia and too concerned with fidelity and bass weight to fit comfortably on an indie rock playslist. In short, consider his debut album Dagger Path an odd bird in 2010, which makes it all the more interesting.
If I were to compare the record to anything, it might be Neil Young’s fantastic score for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Not to say that the guitar playing here comes anywhere close to Young’s effortless emotion but Barnes’ twang manages to convey the same sense of vastness and loneliness, the kind of isolation one might find in the middle of a vast prairie field with no sign of human life for days. The other obvious touchstone is Morricone, whose finger picked guitars may not have been an inspiration but certainly stand as a parallel. Throw in some reggae grade bass and thundering drums all tied together by immaculately modern production and you’ve got the kind of record that should be scoring Tarentino flicks. If that’s too much of a stretch, a number of Forest Swords videos have popped up on Vimeo to help flesh out the world these instrumentals might illustrate, populating them with 70’s city kids, alienated youth and disaffected sharecroppers.
Though it’s undoubtedly the record’s strongest asset, Dagger Path’s moodiness and lack of interest in traditional song craft might also be the project’s only flaw. Mind you, this is a minor quibble considering the album never aims for pop territory, but it’d be interesting to hear Barnes work with a vocalist for future Forest Swords projects — even the best film soundtracks need one or two big tunes to tie them together. Still, it’s all too rare for a guitar record these days to avoid all manner of scene politics and emerge fully formed, avoiding contemporary trends and seemingly existing in a vacuum. I’ll gladly take an instrumental Dagger Path to one festooned with warbling from a chanteuse du jour. For now, with plenty of room to grow in every direction from dubstep remixes to actual film work to more focused rock recording, there’s no reason to bemoan Dagger Path for what it isn’t, that it can inspire so many intriguing possibilities is enough.