One of the more curious phenomena of recent years has been the rebranding of cities (usually by people completely unconnected with that city). Last year, for example, visitors to Manchester were greeted by signs proclaiming “I love MCR”, leading to the puzzling conclusion that the north west was now home to a large amount of My Chemical Romance fans. And now, it’s Birmingham’s time – or, as some journalists have dubbed it, B-Town.
Yes, B-Town. The rather spurious scene is centred around the suburb of Digbeth and seems to revolve around the fact that several bands live there. One of those bands is Peace, whose debut album was released earlier this year to rather divisive reviews – for every person who proclaimed it an album of the year and festooned it with stars, there was another with a rather bemused expression scribbling down a phrase previously never written by anyone: “Is this the start of an Airhead reunion?”
Swim Deep are sprung from the same scene that begat Peace, and are likely to meet with the same range of opinions. Their debut has been two years in the making, and the decision to push back the release date from early spring to the start of August is a canny one – Where The Heaven Are We is full of summery guitar pop that would perfectly soundtrack these lazy, languid, heatwave-striken days.
When Swim Deep hit form, they sound blissful. There’s no finer example of this than the single which first brought them to attention, King City. Gorgeous waves of guitar crash like splashing waves, and there’s a beautiful, yearning vocal from Austin Williams, which leads into a chorus of “Fuck your romance, I wanna pretend that Jenny Lee Lindberg is my girlfriend”. It’s unclear how the bass player of Warpaint feels about being the subject of such a pledge of unrequited love, but it’s a perfect, albeit bittersweet, pop song.
Elsewhere, they strut with confidence on Francisco (complete with a perfect ‘counting in’ introduction) and early single Honey still sounds beautifully shimmering and laid-back. The quartet’s talent for spotting a hook is much in evidence throughout Where The Heaven Are We, with She Changes The Weather and Make My Sun Shine being blessed with choruses sent straight from somewhere heavenly.
And yet, there’s a nagging feeling throughout the album that this has all been done before. Obviously, nothing is genuinely original in rock music, but rather like the (admittedly excellent) Savages album sounds slightly less thrilling to someone who’s heard a Patti Smith record before, Swim Deep sometimes sound too in thrall to their influences. Colour Your Ways and Red Lips I Know could both easily feature on an early ’90s compilation of shoegazing tunes, while Soul Trippin’ sounds like the work of a convincing Ride tribute band.
Not that these are bad influences to have of course, and Swim Deep often imbue their songs with enough personality of their own to pull it off (see the wonderfully infectious looped piano hook in the introduction to She Changes The Weather for just one example). While Where The Heaven Are We isn’t a perfect debut album, it’s a solid effort, and there’s enough talent on display to hint at even better things to come. Just let’s not make B-Town happen. Please.