An inescapable transfixing, Niagarama the new album from Scottish chamber pop band How To Swim seduces with an irresistible charm and almost devious artistry which simply enslaves the imagination and passions. It is a deliciously varied and adventurous escapade, a melodic emprise which is as unafraid to tease and tantalise as it is to lie romantically upon the ears and senses. In many ways the band is still a relative secret, inexplicably escaping so far a spotlight which their new full-length definitely suggests they deserve, but now with its unveiling you can only imagine and expect that whisper of recognition to soon become a roar.
Formed in 2000 by vocalist/guitarist Gregor Barclay, How to Swim has persistently intrigued and ignited thoughts with their releases and evolving sound. From a rawer encounter the band has developed an orchestrated pop which devours ears as vivaciously as ears devour it, with Niagarama the pinnacle of the band’s rise so far. Numerous line-up changes have come within the life of the band and now from a complement of personnel reaching double figures the band has become a lean mean pop machine featuring members of The Second Hand Marching Band, The Martial Arts, and the now-defunct Mother and The Addicts, but a sextet just as potent in presence and weight of invention as ever. The new album also sees a wealth of talented guests helping realise the songwriting and imagination of Barclay and the Glasgow band, and the exploration of ‘the loss of youth and how we process it’, the album’s core theme amidst a pungent metaphor indicated by its title. It is a magnificent beast of enticement, one to have feet dancing, imagination painting, and emotions reflecting.
Released on their own Personal Hygiene Recordings and the successor to the acclaimed Retina (or More Fun Than a Vat of Love) of 2010, Niagarama takes little time to fascinate and subsequently bewitch as Niagara opens up the fun. From a haunted intro the song cups ears with poetic keys and the coaxing expressive tones of Barclay, his voice a slightly gravelly but alluring enticement which fits perfectly within the piano melodies and emotive strokes of strings from their manipulative bows. It is a surprising entrance into the album, a potent croon which does not ignite senses and emotions but certainly stirs them up nicely for the following triumph of Small Parts Moving. The second track instantly grips attention with discord kissed rub of violins immediately courted by darker bass hues and great twisted teasing of guitars. The song is soon in full control of the emotions as it hits its stride, brass and vocals adding their descriptive hues to the emerging narrative. Bouncing with the appetite of pure pop but equally twisting it with an invention which crosses numerous styles and veins of sound, the track dances eagerly like a mix of James Cook and Union Starr.
With an inspired rapturous hunger now in place the following Bacterium feeds it again with its insatiable bait complete with a swagger clad melodic tempting and rhythmic shuffle matched by vocals and brass. An essence of Young Knives brings further depth to the persuasion, whilst the mischievous heart and swing of the song simply enslaves body and soul. It is a glorious romp matching its predecessor in setting an early lofty plateau for the album. With mesmeric devilry to the guitars and the gait of the encounter, the band envelops the listener in a weave of feisty seduction which is straight away pushed to greater success by Too Old For A Crush (To Be Endearing). With firm rhythms aligned to imagination clasping swipes of riffs, brass, and elegant keys, all under the spell of the excellently blended male and female harmonies, the song is an irresistible temptress; a seductress which steals even greater submission through sudden blazes of intensity and concussive voracity. It is a scintillating waltz of beauty and ferocity, a dramatic show with the carnivalesque suasion of Tankus The Henge and the rapacious ingenuity of 12 Stone Toddler, yet rigorously unique to How To Swim.
Both It Doesn’t Even Have To Be You and I Need A War keep the album in control of attention and greedy appetite, if without quite matching earlier heights. The first recalls the fluid warmth of eighties bands like The Lightning Seeds which soak radiant melodies and brass flames with extra infectiousness skirted by the emotive strings which constantly provide the colour for emotions and thoughts to cast their individual premises. Its successor from a slow and charming vocal/acoustic embrace glides in on a seventies pop like breath, with again strong blends of harmonies to fill its emotional embrace. It is an appealing start but one which does not take a firm hold until a rhythmic adventure and a web of guitar sculpted ingenuity takes over the tempting. The song then swiftly moves into unpredictable scenery which entwines both aspects of its intent for a thoroughly satisfying sultry proposition.
The brief INTERMISSION: The Dead Cat Bounce steps in next for an ok diversion before the jazzy waltz of Long Division takes ears on another seventies bred mystery with exciting rewards. The song merges funk and pop into its lively yet smouldering saunter to capture the imagination once more before the potent Bark steps in to steal the passions all over again. Managing to be melancholic and excitingly buoyant simultaneously, it an effervescent whirlwind of invention and emotions, the track is gorgeous with keys and strings along with the ever inviting vocals taking top honours.
The album closes with Animals and All That We Wait For, two songs which certainly in the case of the first are almost toying with thoughts, inflaming their creativity with a weave of inspiring musical imagination. An electronic simplicity marks the first of the pair whilst a vocal caress within a flight of engrossing strings and absorbing melodies ensures the final song brings a compelling last incitement to bask in. The song takes longer than most to convince but with a riveting Walker Brothers like sixties magnificence to its emerging grandeur, it is another immense highlight of the album.
Niagarama is quite sensational and surely the key to taking How To Swim into the recognition and burning spotlight they have long suggested through their music and invention that they deserved. Pop does not get any better than this, or as imposingly impacting, a must release for all.
Niagarama is available via Personal Hygiene Recordings now @ https://howtoswim.bandcamp.com/album/niagarama
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