Thursday, May 17, 2012

Album Review: Swarms - Low Sun

Album Rating: C-
Looking back on the yet limited discography Swarms have to offer, I don’t think it’s possible to say that the direction they take on Low Sun is any surprise. This unlikely trio (with two setting their roots in ambient/post-rock and the other hailing from the foreign land of EDM and Dubstep) seem to have been continuously re-establishing the compromise between their influences: with their incredibly bass-laden, slow-motion take on contemporary dance music steadily giving way the more ambient approach that made them so popular in their full-length, Old Raves End. Low Sun sees them continue down this path: shrugging off the bass and complexity for a more straightforward and muzzled pastiche on urbanised electronic.

Possibly the most controversial decision taken in the creation of this EP is the new preference of lyrics over vocal sampling. Both “Low Sun” and “Forest” settle somewhere between James Blake and Jamie Woon in their robotic imitation of RnB soul. While certainly present, the vocal modification is kept to a minimum: the emphasis shifting how it sounds to what is said. It’s a change that arrives unwelcome, and it has to be said that the results are rather lackluster. The lyrics instantly forgettable, the emotion mere sentiment alone; there is no sign of the lonely, lost and sorrowful tone that seemed to be conjured so effortlessly in Old Raves End. When samples are used instead, notably in “Pandora”, there is an instant improvement both in the vibrancy and flow: begging the question as to why Swarms saw it as necessary to make the jump over to a style that, while more continuous, ended up as monotonous.

The group have not forgot how to compile a track completely, however, as the tone created by the very minimal percussion and sampled piano is reasonably immersive. It does run into the problem of tracks never really seeking to grab your attention with much in the way of variation or dynamic shifts; instead it prefers to just flutter by prettily, though based in the context of giving the lyrics more room to breathe - so to speak - this is an understandable decision. Again, “Pandora” acts as the single string of continuity between Low Sun and Old Raves End by being saturated in bass, possessing a deeper range of sounds and in general being much more pleasant to listen to. Set right next to “The Hinge of the Night Sky” (in a 4-track, 13-minute-long EP it would be hard not to be), the contrast could not be more obvious.

While I can understand that Swarms were bound to go down this road, I think Low Sun makes it apparent that they should start thinking about trying a different one. In passing over the sweet spot found on their recent LP, they’ve abandoned a large part of their appeal and indeed much in the way of individuality entirely. For its merits, Low Sun is not a terrible release: it’s relaxed and easy to listen to. But, were it not for “Pandora,” I feel that this EP would be destined for some lonely, well-deserved few years in whatever’s the internet equivalent of a bargain bin.


1. Low Sun
2. The Hinge of the Night Sky
3. Pandora
4. Forest

1 comment:

  1. limited discography? 2 albums, 2 EPS and a remix for Diplo (37 tracks total)