Most of the greatest stories are not studies of incremental steps towards success. They are, to quote Craig Finn, chronicles of “Tiny little triumphs / Massive bloody failures”. The real tests in life do not come in managing success, they centre around the strive for something better, or hinge on how we respond when the rug is pulled from beneath us.
A healthy buzz, two major label releases and an American tour supporting The 1975 would complete the bucket list of most fledgling groups, and on paper at least Britain’s Swim Deep were living the dream in the period following the release of their second record Mothers. However, an almost inevitable burnout ensued, a period of turmoil that saw the group retreat, recalibrate and figure out what the hell comes next. A decision to continue was made, two members were lost, and Swim Deep are emerging, set to start over.
Emerald Classics contains a sobering appreciation for the important things in life. The acid-house and techno influences of their previous records remain, but the group are now raving from the side-lines, relishing in the life-affirming spectacle, but safe in the knowledge that it won’t all be forgotten by the morning after. The four years since their last release has allowed for a period of contemplation, resulting in an emotional depth that only comes from hard-won life experiences and swollen hearts.
Flitting from futuristic synth-pop to baggy 90s nostalgia the band’s restless exuberance has been little diminished by their time away. ‘Bruised’ and ‘Happy As Larrie’ are filled with the euphoric reverberations of the 90s rave scene with a little Screamadelica thrown in for good measure, while on ‘Top Of The Pops’ frontman Austin Williams sounds like Jarvis Cocker painted in psychedelic technicolour. The amphetamine highs of Britpop bluster through album closer ‘Never Stop Pinching Yourself’ which even throws a horn section into the mix before closing out in a hazy swirl reminiscent of The Charlatans at their dreamiest.
Swim Deep are not afraid to embrace their pop side and ‘0121 Desire’ and ‘World I Share’ could easily be dropped into most daytime radio playlists. A fine pop sheen glosses many of the tracks, but if anything, it often detracts from the nuance and earnest exposure of the songwriting. It is within the moments when they deviate away from the norm that Swim Deep are at their most affecting. Album opener and previous single ‘To Feel Good’ which samples Rozalla’s‘Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)’ is a gospel backed, spoken word, diary entry of a day in the life of Williams. It’s one of the best things the band have ever done, marrying Mike Skinner‘s gritty world view with an inexplicable musical optimism. And ‘Father I Pray’, with its glitchy 80s drums, autotuned backing vocals and surf-pop guitar licks feels like one big joyous chorus.
Swim Deep utilise the sounds of the past in an attempt to leave theirs behind them. As Williams sings “My nostalgia is poison” on ‘Drag Queens in Soho’, enveloped by the twee jangle-pop of Belle and Sebastian, he captures overwhelming emotional weight the past can have, and how we can’t be defined by what is behind us.
Emerald Classics may not be a knockout punch, but it has the reserves to dig deep and go the distance. Fun, infectious and heart-warming, it is a record testament to the enduring reward of picking yourself up and starting again. Great stories are born out of the smallest of moments, tiny universal battles that unite us all. In shifting their gaze to their own fallibilities and diving headfirst into full-hearted appraisals of their lives, all without losing the fun that founded them, Swim Deep have taken back the control to write their own ending.
Emerald Classics is released on October 4th on JAGJAGUWAR
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.