New Forest Swords

New album, Compassion, out Friday, May 5.


Old Guy in the Club

A week ago, I saw Forest Swords and How to Dress Well at U Street Music Hall.  Great show — really looking forward to How to Dress Well’s upcoming album — but that’s not what I’m writing about.

While looking around before the show started, I realized, not for the first time, I was the “old guy in the club”:

When my father was my current age, I was 22. I couldn’t help but smile thinking of the image of my father, inevitably wearing a rumpled suit and tie, at one of the punk shows I was frequenting at the time. He would not have lasted two minutes.

Of course, I never thought of my father as enjoying music in general. I had been told that he once had, and there was always a stereo in the house, but I do not remember ever seeing him listening to music on his own. He must have outgrown his interest.

However, every once in a while, he would pull out a binder of old swing band records and play a few for my brother and me. The highlight was always Will Bradley and his Orchestra‘s “Celery Stalks At Midnight”:

The falsetto shout of “celery stalks along the highway” near the end of this instrumental cracked us all up every time.


Upsetting Forest Swords

As I have previously writtenForest Swords is one of the best of the current generation of dub artists.  And now his “Thor’s Stone” has been remixed by dub pioneer Lee Perry, AKA The Upsetter:

Speaking of Perry, his dub classic Super Ape, credited to The Upsetters, was issued in a special double vinyl edition (with the cover etched into side four) today, Record Store Day.

Echoing Through the Haunted Forest

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.