There’s no doubt that Swim Deep that Swim Deep have done a lot of evolving in the last two years since the release of their debut album ‘Where The Heaven Are We’. I would have said ‘growing up’ but they still seem to be the same party-loving Brummie lads we met in 2012. Their transformation almost mirrors that of the Beatles, going from young indie pop sweethearts to open-minded, innovative musicians. And the psychedelia isn’t missing from the story either. There’s no getting away from the fact that second album Mothers is a massively psychedelic set of songs. Frontman Austin Williams agreed, in an interview with NME, that the album is psychedelic and said it was influenced largely by acid house music. ‘We wanted to radicalise chart music’ he said, ‘so we put ‘Yeezus’ and ‘Rumours’ together with acid house’ also stating Kanye West and Fleetwood Mac as inspiration.
Also, worth noting is the band’s growth into a five-piece when they recruited their friend and multi-instrumentalist James Balmont who has added keys and percussion to their sound. He has, without a doubt, helped them evolve the sound of their music from the guitar-centric sound of Where The Heaven Are We into the musical cocktail of Mothers. James has apparently had a big influence on song writing too- not just recording. He told an interviewer how the 8 minute final track of the album came about through a jamming session between himself and Austin.
Since 2013, Swim Deep have been heavily linked with the Birmingham ‘B-Town’ indie scene. Musicians often don’t take too kindly to being tied into music scenes the way bands were tied into the Britpop and Cool Britannia scenes. At the time, Swim Deep didn’t seem to mind being praised as one of the pioneers of a scene that brought us Peace, Jaws and Superfood. Their 2013 video for single ‘Honey’ saw bassist Cavan McCarthy proudly painting the phrase ‘B-Town’ on a wall next to the band’s logo. And their video for Where The Heaven Are We’s lead track ‘King City’ showed the boys wandering and skating around Birmingham district Digbeth, which is recognised as the birthplace of B-Town. Peace, a band, who went to the same school and made a name for themselves playing in the same Digbeth clubs as Swim Deep, don’t seem to mind the affiliation either, releasing a second album ‘Happy People’ in January 2015 with a sound that hadn’t changed much since their 2013 debut ‘In Love’. But now, Swim Deep seem to have broken out of the B-Town bubble.
In fairness, they had always been about more than just Birmingham. Where The Heaven Are We was full escapism and dreamy lyrics and riffs. The songs Orange County, Francisco, Santa Maria and Isla Vista were all named after places in California- somewhere the band have always had an affinity with, even long before first visiting the US. In the summer of 2013, Swim Deep revealed a second video for King City, which followed them cruising around California in a topless Cadillac. Perhaps the double video was to represent their real home of Birmingham and the streets of Digbeth and their spiritual home of California. In February 2015, they unveiled a single called ‘To My Brother’ which would later be named on the Mothers track listing. The B-Side was a track called ‘Hotel California’ which bore the chorus, ‘I was drunk, singing Hotel California’ as a homage to the 1976 song by The Eagles of the same name.
I get the feeling that Mothers is a song about the universe rather than Digbeth and Cali. Even from a look at the track listing, you will notice an intergalactic theme; ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’, ‘Forever Spaceman’ and ‘Laniakea’- the cluster of galaxies home to the Milky Way. Even tracks like ‘Imagination’ and ‘Fueiho Boogie’ sound like spaced out, psychedelic jams. Austin also revealed in an interview that they decided to name the album ‘Mothers’ as an ‘ode to the creators of the universe’.
The original release date of the highly anticipated album was the 18th September but due to issues with the production of the vinyl copies, it was delayed until the 25th and then pushed back again to the 2nd October. But here we are on Friday the 2nd October and finally, we’ve got our hands on it.
‘One Great Song And I Could Change The World’ is the name of the album’s opener. Energetic beats are combined with gorgeous breezy vocals and shimmering synths. Despite giving the listeners, a small taste of the psychedelia yet to come, One Great Song is one of the catchiest pop songs on the album. It’s confident, feel-good, effortless and brilliant.
The first track on the album to be revealed was ‘To My Brother’ way back in February. It instantly got people talking and asking questions. The adventurous single was more 80s synth than 90s acid house but it was enough to intrigue everyone connected with band about the possibility of a new era. The flowing rhythms and equally trippy video were completed by Austin’s repetitive lyric ‘All i do is preach to my brother’ even though it wasn’t the focus of track.
‘Green Conduit’ is a step back from the in-your-faceness of the in your faceness of the rest of the record. It starts out as a stripped back acoustic song with gentle vocals and minimal electronics come in at the chorus. It’s not an out of this world song but it provides a welcome break from the bonkers psychedelia for four and a half minutes and makes for easy, or easier, listening.
Track 4, ‘Heavenly Moment’, doesn’t throw you back in at the deep end. I found it eases you back into the flow of the album nicely. Soothing, melodic from Austin are layered over layer upon layer of shining synth and what sounds like a bongo beat. The vibe of the song seems to shift throughout the duration, as its pulled from uplifting and feel-good to slighty dark and melancholic (and back again). I don’t think this can be put down to inconsistency though as Austin did mention in an interview in April that the album does give their signature style of sunshiney dreampop a dark edge… ‘dark dreampop’ he called it.
‘Namaste’ is the closest thing to a pop song you’ll find on Mothers. It’s packed full of chirpy beats, heavy synths, fuzzy bass and cheesy vocals. It’s everything that was awful about 80s pop rolled into one glorious ball. The song is accentuated by its 80s game show video featuring Paul Daniels, Austin’s mum, Zach’s dad and Fred Macpherson of Spector. It’s like a guilty pleasure song you don’t feel guilty about. There’s no denying that Namaste is cheesy but you can sing, dance and laugh to it. It makes you smile. And I genuinely think that was Swim Deep’s sole aim with this song.
The sixth track on the album is called ‘Is There Anybody Out There’. This is, in my opinion, on of the highlights of Mothers. It was never going to be released as a single. It’s not that type of song. It’s not hugely catchy or dancey. It’s a slow, breezy song driven by keys from James and topped off by Austin’s echoed cry: ‘Is Anybody Out There?’. It sums up the ongoing theme of the LP nicely.
Speaking of the album’s galactic, universal, outer space theme, next up is ‘Forever Spaceman’. After being left feeling rather satisfied by Is Anybody Out There, I found Forever Spaceman somewhat disappointing. The three and a half minute song takes the best part of two minutes to do anything. In the mean time, you’re left listening to some irritating white noise, which could make a lot of listeners skip onto the next song. Even after something started happening around 1:50, the track seems to struggle to find an identity. It sounds like a mish-mash of random synths and vocals. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it hasn’t worked out this time for Swim Deep.
Back to positive reviewing,’Grand Affection’ is one of my favourite songs provided by Mothers. A groovy beat similar to that of One Great Song And I Could Change The World provides backing to Austin’s blissful vocals and catchy lyrics. Uplifting cries of ‘grand affection!’ over an upbeat chiming rhythm make for a wonderfully well-rounded feel-good pop song.
‘Imagination’ is a 6 minute long dreamy track. It’s built around synthy-heavy beats like most songs on the album but they sound smoother and less in your face on Imagination. Austin’s warm, soothing vocals put the icing on the cake in this escapist daydream of a song. It also manages not to get boring throughout its 6 minute duration despite its obvious repetition.
Penultimate track ‘Laniakea’ takes the grand prize of the most barmy song on Mothers. Austin cries ‘all the brothers and the mothers and the lovers’ repetitively over a bizarre high-pitched tune. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out Swim Deep recorded Laniakea as a joke when messing around in the studio and decided they liked it. Weird and brave… but utterly weird.
To bring the album into an epic and euphoric finale is Swim Deep’s longest ever song, the fruit of Austin and James’ jamming sessions: ‘Fueiho Boogie’. The final song of a 90s Manchester acid house inspired album, with the word ‘boogie’ in the title, and shaping up at an 8 minutes 11 seconds duration, my first thought was ‘rave’. You can imagine it being played at a sweaty warehouse party full of smiley tees and substances. It’s an utterly mesmerising danceable track with Austin’s melodic singings of ‘don’t hold me down’ to his repetitive chantings of ‘we’re in the house of fun, we’re gonna run and run’. The rave vibe is maintained throughout the 8 minutes and 11 seconds by heavy drum and bass. it’s the weirdest, bravest thing Swim Deep have ever done. It even leaves space for a bold political statement against the harsh Japanese legislation ‘Fueiho Law’, which prohibits dancing in nightclubs after midnight.
Mothers is undeniably a brave leap into the unknown for Swim Deep, going from grungey indie dreampop kids to eccentric acid house musicians. A different band emerged from that Brussels studio when recording was finished. But are they musical geniuses or lunatics? Such an experimental, boundary-pushing album as Mothers was only going to go one of two ways. Swim Deep appear to be hugely pleased with the outcome of their second LP, with Austin tweeting that he feels like he’s achieved something in his life.
But the album has had mixed reviews so far. Some have hailed Swim Deep for their innovation and their courage and some have dismissed Mothers as a failed re-invention and a failed attempt at a 90s acid house revival that will be quickly forgettable. I will argue against those who call it forgettable; songs like Green Conduit and Forever Spaceman aren’t exactly memorable but I think the album as a whole and the statement that it makes will make a lasting impression on the indie music scene. Hopefully it will encourage innovation and curiosity in other bands. The upbeat catchy pop songs such as Namaste and Grand Affection will be the ones we remember in a few years time but I think Swim Deep will look back on Mothers and see it as a risk worth taking.
Swim Deep go on a UK-wide tour this October culminating at the London Roundhouse for their biggest ever headline show. Tickets are on sale now for the following dates:
10 Sheffield, Leadmill
11 Newcastle, Riverside
12 Glasgow, Oran Mor
14 York, Duchess
15 Liverpool, O2 Academy 2
16 Manchester, Ritz
17 Birmingham, Institute
18 Cambridge, Junction
20 Bristol, Trinity
21 Brighton, Concorde 2
22 London, Roundhouse