The general consensus following the release of Birmingham quartet Swim Deep’s debut LP, Where The Heaven Are We, was that it was a perfectly serviceable and solid first effort. It was a record filled to the brim with dreamy, summer anthems and straightforward indie pop that pretty much anyone could get behind; carrying on from where fellow B-Town act Peace left off earlier in 2013.
In almost an exact repeat of that situation, Swim Deep are back two years later with their second album, Mothers, which comes just months after Peace released their own second effort. However, while much has remained the same during the band’s brief hiatus, there has been some crucial changes in between albums. Most notably, Swim Deep are now bolstered by the addition of multi-instrumentalist James Balmont.
This additional body is a crucial development as it has assisted the band in their bid to change up their sound for their second album. “I feel like we’re all shaving our heads and going to war with this record,” said frontman Austin Williams, making a bold statement of intent ahead of the record’s release. Recorded at the end of 2014 in Brussels and London with producer Dreamtrak, Mothers is undoubtedly a different proposition to their debut.
The first single, To My Brother, signposts Swim Deep’s new direction. It’s a blissful slice of psychedelic pop that nods to heavily towards the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and, in particular, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Williams channels his inner Bobby Gillespie over the song’s shuffling beat and expansive synths, as he sings on the joyous chorus: “I start to get the feeling all I do is preach/ I start to get the feeling all I do is preach to my brother.”
It follows album opener – and second single – One Great Song And I Could Change The World, which is another example of Swim Deep experimenting with the acid house genre. The song is drenched in immersive synths as Williams tweaks his hushed vocal so it becomes just another instrument, as the lyrics continue the positive vibes: “Have I said why I love the sunrise?/ It’s cause it’s only gonna get lighter.”
While Mothers doesn’t exactly break any new ground, it is hard not to be impressed by Swim Deep’s conviction. Namaste is as bold and in-your-face as anything on the record, ditching the guitars once again in favour of splashes of cheesy synth, while Forever Spaceman sees the band mess around with a number of different sounds over the course of its four-minute runtime, moving from plodding synths to a cacophony of static haze.
There is a fleeting return of the guitars for space anthem Is There Anybody Out There, where huge hooks rove playfully over sprawling, atmospheric synths, but Mothers is largely about the band’s use of retro synths. This does gradually become tiring, though, especially as the record moves towards its climax. Take Grand Affection, which sounds like a theme tune for a terrible ‘80s video game, while Laniakea is just plain irritating.
Another issue is the lack of standout moments. The band may have had plans on emulating Screamadelica, but To My Brother is really the only truly memorable track on the album. That is, until eight-minute closer Fueiho Boogie demonstrates Swim Deep’s obvious potential. It is a madcap finale, with pulsating synths bringing some long overdue urgency to the record.
Ultimately, Mothers feels like a stepping stone to bigger and better things for Swim Deep. It is clear the new five-piece had a lot of fun experimenting with their sound and it is a drastic departure from Where The Heaven Are We. Yet, it is not an album that is likely to live long in the memory; almost getting too bogged down in synths to make a significant impact. Once again, it is a case of close, but not close enough.