Forest Swords - Engravings

Forest Swords’ debut long-player is electronic mastery at its very finest.

Label: Tri Angle Records

Rating: 9

Some words - great words, in great books - have the power to deftly sweep the floor out from under their reader like a French waiter showing off his tablecloth-pulling party trick. Words don’t need Hollywood budgets to painstakingly build a life-sized Hogwarts, or to fashion perfect countryside scenes waiting to accommodate Mr Darcy flouncing along on his horse. Words are exciting because they can defy what our physics teacher told us was true. They can conjure infinite possibilities from absolutely nothing.

When music can adopt the same powers of transfiguration, that’s when it becomes magical. Forest Swords’ ‘Engravings’ whisks the gingham tablecloth away in one fast swish, and replaces it with mossy woodland undergrowth, dusky sun breaking through spindly canopy, crystal clear waterfalls, hurrying insects; a whole world that feels entirely real and alive. The crockery barely makes a clatter. ‘Engravings’ is a modest, understated album, and there’s no theatrical arm flinging or pyrotechnics. It creeps up stealthily instead, treading softly through a nimbly played game of ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf?’ before its musical staves sprout limbs, and they simultaneously grip the listener firmly by both the shoulders. Notes tumble in a solemn procession, before a hint of vague, half incomprehensible vocal permeates the mix. Gathering’ initially meaningless gibberish is manipulated together into something that feels loaded with significance, that has a palpable design. ‘Friend, You Will Never Learn’ seems to skitter along in a tinny industrial mass, while ‘Ljoss’ seems to tear down whole trees with its intensity.

‘Engravings’ has a zennish, meditative quality at its epicentre, and Forest Swords’ music sounds ritualistic, but it’s not denouncing anything or pushing some tired agenda. It has a palpable design, but it’s so wonderfully vague that it’s hard to really describe in the conventional sense. Typical choice words to describe an album like this seem to fail, because only imagery can capture the sense of world that this music seems to generate. All too often electronic music feels cold and impersonal, removed behind protective sound-desks and masked by endless ‘drops’. Forest Swords’ debut long-player is electronic mastery at its very finest, because ‘Engravings’ manages to make electronic music feel tactile, organic, and alive.