Sometimes it pays to be patient. It's certainly
a good job that I didn't review Swimming Across the Sound
after two or three plays. Otherwise, I would have awarded it
a couple of sponges and then told Superfallingstars to go away
and write a few tunes, because those on offer just weren't sinking
in. But being the hard-working and conscientious Minion that
I am, I locked myself in the Sponge Cave with a CD player and
my sponge pen and paper and didn't let myself out until I knew
these songs inside out.
And the verdict…well, it's a lot better than I initially thought. The tunes that I didn't think memorable had wormed their way into my head, and the backing vocal arrangements that I didn't think worked, suddenly did!
The band in question, Superfallingstars, hail from Connecticut. However, they actually remind me most of late 70's UK band Squeeze, and not just because they knock out little vignettes with hooklines. One of their singers, Mike Sembos, sounds not unlike Squeeze's lead vocalist, Glenn Tilbrook. And again, like Squeeze, they also have another singer, JJ Jacobsen, whose voice is pitched in the lower regions, though admittedly his vocal style is more Bowie than Chris Difford. Swimming Across the Sound, their first full length release, was recorded on a four track in what the band modestly claim to be "a remarkable feat of DIY engineering". They've got a point, because although you can hear a condensed element, especially where instruments merge into wall of sound, it works. And the album certainly doesn't sound cheap and nasty.
The album opens with Gravity Girl, the only number clocking in over
three minutes. For those old enough to remember the NME's C86
showcase cassette way back when, there's a similar lively, thrashy
feel, but the best tracks are yet to come. Going Nowhere
and Even Though, two of the tracks with Jacobsen's Bowie-like
vocals, are both highlights. The former has a great chorus whilst
the latter, a song about loving someone despite their, ahem,
faults, is my favourite track on the album. And the line, "I
love you though you're depressing" certainly brought a smile
to my face. Actually, come to think of it, I'd like to hear
Morrissey sing it!
But in case I'm showing unnecessary bias to Jacobsen, it's
only right I should mention the catchy It's Over, sung
by Sembos. This is one of the tracks that reminds me of Squeeze.
I could definitely imagine Difford rhyming situation with stagnation,
and singing "You're the greatest thing" before contradicting
himself by adding, "It's over". It's Over also boasts
a particularly strong group performance with lovely chords and
bass runs, and snappy drums courtesy of William Knapp.
I'm still less keen on a couple of tracks, though. The Fall
(not, alas, a tribute to Mark E Smith and gang), another Squeeze-like
track, has a touching "Another summer somehow slipped away"
chorus, but the added jazzy guitars aren't really my cup of
tea. Likewise, Better Off, despite its nice 60's folky
feel and tambourine, is ultimately not memorable enough and
it just sounds too, well, "protest song" for my liking.
Guaranteed to appeal to Billy
Bragg fans though!
Swimming Across the Sound ends strongly, however. Time To
Go has a beautiful, gently strummed intro and some Ziggy
Stardust crooning, before suddenly building up to a "time to
go" refrain. It also features some of those backing vocal arrangements
that I didn't like on early plays, but which actually work really
well. We then get a knockabout version of The Smiths' classic
Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. But whereas
Morrissey seemed to be pleading to a more powerful force for
a better life, Superfallingstars sound more like kids asking
their moms for their favourite ice lolly. And whilst it's an
enjoyable run-thru, I can't help thinking an extended version
of Time To Go would have been a better place to leave
Still, Swimming Across the Sound is a promising
debut all the same, although it will likely need a little time
to sink in.