By Erin Christie
Edinburgh-based four-piece swim school are ascending a smooth incline toward indie notoriety, a path paved by the likes of their peers and nearby greats such as Wolf Alice, Stepbrother, and Bleach Lab. Their discography is drenched with the cotton candy-sweet fuzzed-out riffery that characterized the beloved 80s dream-pop era, while still introducing their own unique and all-too-enticing blend of spaced-out, shimmy-inducing melodies. Needless to say, this is a group that I've trained my eye on in recent months!
The band — composed of members Alice Johnson (vocals and guitar), Lewis Bunting (guitar), and Matt Mitchell (bass), and the newly indicted Billy McMahon (drums) — made their debut just two years ago, and in the time since, they’ve wracked up a number of well-acclaimed singles, such as "let me inside your head" and "outside," all leading up to the culmination of their efforts: an EP entitled making sense of it all (released today, August 20). The release is said to be composed of songs that encompass the band’s experiences over the last year, mapping out a diary-esque retelling of their collective wordly and relationship-based hardships, in addition to setting the stage for Johnson to explore her recent period of poor mental health, in hindsight. Thus, making sense of it all, in its creation, likely served as a form of catharsis for the group, and for listeners, a sigh of relief can be found in the relatable themes it covers.
In the months leading up to the EP’s release this week, the band gradually unveiled a number of singles, including one of their most danceable, yet introspective works to date, "anyway." Centered around the all-too-common internal conflict that arises when attempting to open up about one's personal battles with mental turmoil, "anyway" comes across as raw and confessional, even when backed with a hypnotic and upbeat guitar-led groove. This is the sweet spot swim school have hit time and time again: they have honed in on a musical narrative that is not only feel-good, but crushingly real.
Ultimately, however, what drew me to this group from the gate was their aforementioned single "let me inside your head." Opened with a haunting siren-esque call, drenched in a thick layer of fuzz, and punched up with a hook that immediately lassos you in, the track instantly caught my attention upon coming across it. It fit exactly into the niche that I’ve found myself obsessed with lately, one defined by a busy sonic landscape filled with blistering guitar and rippled basslines, pushed back against sweet and silky vocals. Beneath the brooding surface of the track, though, the band venture into the same introspective place they explored with "anyway," as it touches on a chivalrous desire to take on the pain of a loved one so as to help them heal, and to personally understand what they’re going through better. This sentimental message certainly resonates, and speaks toward the group's unadulterated candor even when speaking on less than pretty realities and doing so on a very public playing field.
New additions to swim school's discography — the heartbeat-quickening, angst-ridden banger "see red" and pillowy soft and anthemic "everything you wanted" — make a case on behalf of swim school's clear mastery of the indie-pop sound that 'kids these days' just can’t get enough of, harking back to the enchanting quality of my personal favorite group Wolf Alice, who have made a name for themselves via a platform composed of edgy hooks, gritty lyricism, and twinkly instrumentation.
On top of exhibiting tried-and-true musical prowess, though, swim school have also proven themselves unafraid to stand out among the pack, brandishing a powerful sense of duality with embracing the familiar, and exploring what can happen when what we know is shifted by a degree or two. In the aftermath, swim school ends up teaching us a lesson or two.
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