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Forest Swords’ “Arms Out” Signals an Ambitious Turn for New Album Compassion

For all its menace and foggy atmosphere, much of the music the producer Matthew Barnes has released as Forest Swords thus far is pretty good for putting on in the background of whatever you’re doing and zoning out: repetitive, hip-hoppy drums, dubby basslines, samples that contribute to the patchwork texture of a given track rather than grabbing you by the throat.

“Arms Out” a new track released today, signals that maybe that won’t be the case for Barnes anymore. Built on chopped-up vocals and percussion that patiently build to an emotional climax over several minutes, it has an almost filmic narrative arc that’s much more suited to close listening than it is for background noise. In that way, it reminds me of “Stem/Long Stem,” the DJ Shadow classic whose epic scope helped make it clear that Endtroducing…. was something more than mood music.

Today, Barnes also announced the forthcoming Compassion, his second full-length. (2010’s Dagger Paths, though quite substantial in length in content, was technically an EP.) Together with the previously released gothic banger “The Highest Flood,” “Arms Out” may signal that the new album will operate on a grander scale than Forest Swords’ previous work. Compassion will be released May 5 via Ninja Tune. Watch the “Arms Out” video below.