“Like a Wizard on Shrooms”

Forest Swords’s new album Compassion exists outside of time. He’s never seemed more relevant. A+

Last year’s glitchy political statements like Bon Iver’s 22, a million and Kendrick’s untitled unmastered were albums of the moment. They were representations of the societal earthquakes (Trump, Brexit, Aleppo) that marked 2016. Compassion might have elements of those artists’ noise-as-social-commentary, but the music doesn’t feel like it’s commenting on the here and now. As always, Forest Swords mashes together sounds from a thousand different places and eras.

70s guitar riffs co-exist alongside futuristic dub, recordings of human voices fuse with classical instruments, and horns that sound like they were imported straight from Mordor top off the whole affair. The whole thing sounds like it was produced by Gandalf on psilocybin.

But don’t get me wrong. The music’s not meant to be jolly. The melody for ‘Sjurvival’, for example, might be one of the year’s saddest. The chorus of ‘Panic’ — if you can call it’s fragments of a vocal recording a chorus — sounds like a full-blown anxiety attack. It’s heavy stuff, but the album’s overall effect is kind of consoling. Things have always been this bad, the music seems to say. And for most of human history, a lot whole worse.

Forest Swords argues that we can find some refuge in music that is this historically pessimistic. “It is almost like a primal thing,” he said in a 2014 interview, “you can hear in someone’s music when they are trying to be honest and true about something.”

Compassion is honest and true about things that have always been on our minds. We’ve always been panicked. We’ve always felt like the world was ending. And we’ve always sjurvived.

It’s not timely. It’s timeless.