Album Review: Swim Deep - 'Emerald Classics'
The Mic dives into Swim Deep's latest offering and their first post-hiatus record, finding it to be, although not faultless, their most mature to date.
Swim Deep is a name which you may not have heard for some time and one which may hark back to an era of summery indie-pop; certainly for me, hearing those two words immediately transports me back to my school days, manically dancing to The Sea whilst pairing jelly shoes with tie dye (yeah, I was cool). However, returning to the alternative music scene with their third studio album and first release since 2015, Swim Deep have confirmed that after a difficult but perhaps well-earned hiatus, they’re back to doing what they do best – albeit with a fresh line up as well as a fresh perspective.
Having released their jangly, dreamy debut album Where the Heaven Are We to great acclaim on major label Chess Club/RCA in 2012, Swim Deep seemed to be on an upwards trajectory, selling out venues and playing shows alongside the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and The 1975. However, along with their contemporaries and fellow Birmingham band Peace, the quintet appeared to lose momentum and quickly disappeared from the radar of most fans and their own record label. Following the end of their contract and the partial breakup of the band (guitarist Zack Robinson and drummer Tom Higgins both departed in quick succession in 2018), the remaining members Austin Williams (vocals), Cavan McCarthy (bass) and James Balmont (keys) refused to see their band disintegrate. Instead, they galvanised themselves and recruited new guitarist Robbie Wood and Tom Fiquet on drums. Emerald Classics is the resultant release on their independent label Pop Committee, echoing not only of hardship and loss, but also positivity and perseverance – the overarching message is that giving up is not the answer.
'Swim Deep have confirmed that after a difficult but perhaps well-earned hiatus, they’re back to doing what they do best – albeit with a fresh line up as well as a fresh perspective'.
The album opens with To Feel Good, on which Margate Singing Social Choir begin this album of hope and perseverance. The ethereal choral singing is punctuated by airy synths and drums until Williams enters with a spoken word chorus, setting out the three main themes of the album: a sense of loss; a feeling of hope in the face of adversity; and the experience of growing up in working class Birmingham. Lyrics such as: ‘So I've walked up to the [job] centre / And I passed about five bookies on the way / I've walked into the office and I've seen my normal guy / And he's done the usual chat about where, what, why I should apply’ embody the gritty reality of being a jobless, struggling musician in an unfriendly and daunting city. Meanwhile, the choir paradoxically preaches positivity and hope with the words: ‘Everyone is free / To feel good’. This is one of the standout tracks of the album, marrying three seemingly contrasting musical methods – a choir, spoken word and quirky synths. However, against the odds it somehow works and sets a strong precedent for the rest of the album, leaving the chorus ringing in your ears.
The punchy beat of the next track, 0121 Desire, quickly snaps you out of the dreamy stupor you may have entered after the opening track. 0121 Desire is another ode to working-class Birmingham, demonstrating the conflicting ‘love-hate’ relationship many people have with their hometowns, myself included. ‘You wouldn’t wanna leave here / You wouldn’t wanna stay’ speaks of William’s love for the city and his roots despite its many downfalls and flaws, while elsewhere he references the Irish pub The Emerald – used as part of the inspiration and namesake for this album.
'...Williams enters with a spoken word chorus, setting out the three main themes of the album: a sense of loss; a feeling of hope in the face of adversity; and the experience of growing up in working class Birmingham'.
Subsequent tracks echo this feeling of re-emergence and positivity, of dreaming of new and better beginnings after hardship and perhaps disappointment. Some tracks may perhaps slightly miss the mark and could be mistaken for space fillers on the album; Drag Queens of Soho is regrettably forgettable, with a standard Swim Deep-esque chord progression punctuated by conspicuously misplaced bell chimes. That being said, the majority of the tracks are poignant and statement-making in their own right. Bruised describes the idea of returning to reality after a dark period, be it physical or emotional, whilst the synth chords and disco beat of World I Share remind the listener that, in this age of fear-mongering and bleak prospects, the world is effectively our oyster and maybe all is not lost.
Williams explores grief and departure of friends and family in Sail Away, Goodbye; an ode to his grandmother whom he is slowly losing to the grip of dementia. He truly bears his soul in this compelling track, exploring the acceptance of bereavement whilst the person he mourns still lives – something to which I can personally relate. ‘The sun still rises in your eyes / it is setting in your mind’.
Having been branded as the epitome of the ‘shoe-gazing indie’ band in 2012 with their debut release, the Swim Deep of 2019 is a far cry from the cherubic, wholesome bunch who stare wide-eyed at the camera on the album cover. Instead, what we hear is a band desperate not to let the hurdles they have overcome – and the near extinction of the band itself – destroy them. For Swim Deep, it’s as if the sun is finally emerging from behind the rainclouds, and when listening to Happy as Larrie, you can almost see that fresh sunlight glinting off the wet tarmac as you hear Williams sing: ‘When you’ve grown / come back to where you started from / and wrap your arms around it / cause you’re adored and not alone / and everything is gonna be OK’.