Album Reviews

Barry Can’t Swim – When Will We Land?

(Ninja Tune) UK release date: 20 October 2023

Edinburgh producer’s cardigan-cosy debut album offers up a good clutch of serotonin triggers sprinkled across its tracks

Barry Can't Swim - When Will We Land? On the evidence of this debut album, Scottish producer Barry Can’t Swim inhabits a land where it’s always summer (in the “long blissful evenings soundtracked by chilled anthems” sense, rather than the “hideous climate change wasteland” sense). The unhurried grooves on When Will We Land? exude warmth, and whilst they’re not designed to incite dancefloor euphoria, there is certainly a good clutch of serotonin triggers sprinkled across the tracks.

The title track typifies the album’s strengths, coming in with forceful cheeriness as chintzy piano weaves round breathy pads like a Philip Glass reimagining of the Windows 95 start-up, whilst the voice asking “What is the mind of God?” carries shades of Orbital’s Are We Here? The whole experience is cardigan-cosy, with some reverby “diva stuck in a culvert” vocals hiding behind unfussily funky drums.

Always Get Through To You has a rough-hewn gospel-soul vibe, tracing a direct line back to earthy, ochre deep house classics like Joe Smooth’s Promised Land, and I Won’t Let You Down proffers strings that teeter on the edge of cheesiness, but which are nailed down by some steady, chunky drums, until it begins to sound like a Bizarro World version of Bruce Springsteen’s Streets Of Philadelphia, where the melancholy has been replaced by fuzzy optimism.

The naively bouncy Sonder might have been constructed using Fisher Price’s My First Garage Rhythm – a good thing, in case that’s not obvious – and makes use of some non-Anglophone samples which may remind aging ravers of chill-outs and come-downs in the company of Enigma, and similarly a slightly wobbly vocal stumbles above a smiley skipping noughties beat, coming off like a genial, avuncular version of Burial: less Night Bus, more Chatting To Old Ladies In The Number 47 Queue. Speaking of public transport, Deadbeat Gospel is the album’s most intriguingly leftfield track, with what sounds like a field recording of a chirpy half-cut chap dropping a boho spiritual rap to his peers in the late-night taxi rank queue, whilst some strafed vocals are reminiscent of Age Of Love’s eponymous trance monster.

All of this is pretty joyous, and the only real criticism of When Will We Land? is that certain sounds and techniques pop up repeatedly. It’s often useful for artists to limit their palette, but one might begin to feel déjà vu from the descending piano lines, fragmented aahs and oohs, and artfully placed world music samples. Barry Can’t Swim, but just occasionally, he’s been known to coast.

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