20. Forest Swords, 'Compassion'
Looking back to the instrumental hip-hop of DJ Shadow or to Massive Attack's 2013 soundclash/stress party with filmmaker/counterhistorian Adam Curtis, Forest Swords' Matthew Barnes soundtracks a blighted world trying to "find light at the end of the tunnel," as he puts it in the notes to his second album. That tunnel is, by implication, dark and treacherous – metadata has won and we've surveilled ourselves to oblivion. Yet, Barnes creates a tightly composed narrative on Compassion that never descends into apocalyptic disarray. "Panic" sets the tone with a sample of soul singer Lou Johnson intoning "I feel something's wrong" (from his 1964 Northern Soul fave "The Panic Is On") amid sawing violins, chiming bells, tribal thwacks and grinding bass. "Exalter," with its chopped choral samples and dubby creak seems to summon the rubble of post-Internet blight back to life. Barnes' guitar lurks, feints and reverberates like a rusty sword pointing forward; and by penultimate track "Raw Language," with its sweeping strings, choral exclamations and distorted sax wails (both vaguely Eastern and Eighties meditative), Compassion becomes one of 2017's most redemptive pieces of music. C.A.