I’ve been listening to the new Forest Swords album again and again, more than any new album since James Blake’s debut in 2011 and The xx’s before that in 2009, both of which share an awareness of dub production. But dub echoes deep throughout Forest Swords’ Engravings.
Dub was born in Jamaica. To fill out b-sides of singles, producers like King Tubby and Lee Perry deconstructed and reconstructed the a-sides’ instrumental tracks. In particular, they added layers of reverb and echo until the bass lines vibrated through your chest. These tracks became big hits with Jamaican Sound Systems, offering DJs the opportunity to extend popular tracks ad infinitum, creating the remix culture that now defines Electronic Dance Music. (Jim Dooley’s The Small Axe Guide to Dub is highly recommended for anyone interested in Jamaican dub.)
Don Letts introduced dub to UK punks when he played reggae tracks between bands’ sets at London’s Roxy Club. But it was Adrian Sherwood who took the next step in dub’s evolution with his On-U Sound. He stripped the sound down to its core, exposing the eeriness that had always lurked inside dub, as on reggae journalist Vivien Goldman‘s “P.A. Dub.,” which featured PiL’s Keith Levene:
Sherwood was also among the first to employ dub aesthetics on music styles other than reggae, producing and/or remixing artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and Coldcut. On Echo Dek, Sherwood dubbed Primal Scream’s entire Vanishing Point album.
Kevin Martin documented the state of 1990s British dub with two compilations of Macro Dub Infection. But it was Techno Animal, Martin’s collaboration with Justin Broadrick (ex-Napalm Death, Head of David and Godflesh, now Jesu), that plumbed the depths of dread in dub:
Which brings us back to Forest Swords’ great new album, which could easily sub as the soundtrack to a haunted house:
ps — Engravings is officially Forest Swords’ debut album. Their (his? never quite sure how to refer to single producers using group names) 2010 recording, Dagger Paths, was just an EP. Apparently the difference between an album and an EP is the 8 minute difference between 50:29 and 42:10, which is still much longer than most vinyl albums from the ’60s and ’70s were.