Compassion, the follow-up to Forest Swords' critically lauded 2013 debut Engravings, is a response to the uncertain, aggressive new world we're experiencing and communicating within, distilling it into a unique sound territory. Matthew Barnes' exploration of the mid-point between ecstasy and melancholy, artificial and human feels timely and affecting; a celebration of primal connections, life itself, and an anxious glance at the direction we're heading. The result is an assured, compelling, vital body of work, tying together the ancient and future: weaving swathes of buzzing digital textures, field recordings, clattering beats and distorted jazz sax with fizzing orchestral arrangements.
The album shifts from "The Highest Flood's" skeletal bounce to "Panic's" claustrophobic paranoia; the rapturous hyperballad "Arms Out" to the windswept and cinematic "Knife Edge," navigating through the orchestral glitch of "War It" to decaying jazz thump of "Raw Language." The album is equal parts disorienting and immersive, balancing bold sweeping gestures and crumbling textures; tracks seemingly disintegrating and reassembling at points across the album. Blending both digital and specially recorded brass, strings and vocals, Barnes's processing never truly makes it clear what's new or old, sampled or unique, constantly blurring and toying with the line between digital and acoustic.
Compassion is an album that's as weighty as it is vulnerable, sculpting the most striking parts of his previous work into something that feels urgent and necessary, and cementing Barnes as one of the UK's most significant electronic artists and composers.