Swimmer One - The Regional Variations

Bill Cummings 28/10/2007

Rating: 3/5

Scottish leftfield electropop two-piece (Hamish Brown and Andrew Easton) Swimmer One made quite a splash (excuse the pun) in 2006, with the creeping schizophrenia of Dogbox single "Largs Hums." It was a slightly fey, stripped back take on the synth pop work of the Pet shop boys, the dark melodic patterns of Depeche mode and Blue Nile, and the seedy knowing eye of "This is Hardcore" era Pulp, all imbued with a personal sense of postmodern cynicism for the trappings of the modern world, juxtaposing the real life against the media imagery that swamps us: this distinctive sound looked set to carve a niche in the underbelly of the music scene.

When their debut album “The Regional Variations” is good it's very good. The aforementioned “Largs Hums” still sounds infinitely wonderful with its infectious, satanic, Goldfrapp-esque beats: it's the sound of a man driven mad by a mysterious low frequency noise. While the mannered beats, and keyboard swirls of opener "Drowning Knightmare" are imbued with a seedy darkness that sets out the impending nightmarish conclusions of being watched while you drown, with some very clever sexual juxtapositions: "Do you keep on going till your numb/What sound do you make when you come?" The whirring guitars and bleeps of “But My Heart Is Broken” has a kind of space and tenderness that isn't always present elsewhere, a song about what losing a loved one has in common with watching musicians you love sell out (“Soap stars and fake pink castles/You took real life left me…”), suffocating and aching with heartbreak and betrayal.

The second part of the Drowning Knightmare 2, a song about watching someone else die, is beautifully realized; dark and scratchy vocally, it sounds barer with lashings of verb. It sounds like someone singing from the bottom of a cave, and it's all better for it.

Elsewhere there are problems vocally. Much of it's a bit too safe, imagine Bowie's “Berlin” period given a massage by Marc Almond, ever so slightly camp and ever so slightly over produced, thus they only occasionally peek out from behind the net curtains to really excite. Ironically given the title of the album the sound often lacks variation, a real shift in the melodic pattern and when there is one it slightly misfires, the camp disco rhythms "The National Theatre", a song about reality TV, or the repetitive workplace suffocation "The Balance Company" whilst there's cleverness at work here, comparing this to another electro act like The Faint, who infuse their electro with real energy and at times passion: Swimmer One sound lacks a bit at times, in terms of engaging with the listener.

There are moments of real quality here, Swimmer One weave deceptive, dark patterns marrying duel melodies, with interesting lyrical observations of a modern world that seems slightly alien to them. But over the course of an entire album musically these ideas don't always mesh successfully and in the later half of the album, the songs lack dynamism and become a little bit too obvious, a little one paced. All of which leads you to wonder whether this whole album has been a little too overthought, a little too studied, making it sound strangely distant. Which is a shame.