The debut from B-Town’s most natural pop songwriters hints at hidden ambition and greater things to come. If they can be arsed
If B-Town didn’t exist, you wouldn’t bet money on any of the bands involved being arsed to invent it. We’d say nonchalance courses through the scene’s veins like quicksilver, but it’s really more like a slow, viscous swirl. The dreamy, detached sneer of the vocals, the lolloping XXL basslines, all that unwashed hair… Some scenes come roaring out of the traps; B-Town seemed to roll out of bed, insular and uncontrived, smirking at its own in-jokes, smelling faintly of K cider and intent on nothing loftier than the pursuit of a laugh.
Yet the New Slackerism facade masks an underlying drive and ambition; like their mates Peace – or possibly because of their mates Peace – Swim Deep are signed to a major label, the sort of place where underachievement is not tolerated and new bands are expected to find success straight off the bat. Then there are statements like this one from frontman Austin Williams: “I want to have a massive influence on pop music,” he recently told one interviewer. “Not to be the biggest band, necessarily – that can come too, if it’s the right time and place – but I want to be the most influential.”
Those are not the words of a man who’s in it for shits and giggles, but ‘Where The Heaven Are We’ inevitably has a hard time living up to them. When Williams says that he “can’t see anything that compares to us”, for example, your first instinct is to point him in the direction of, say, The Mock Turtles. But they’re hardly the first band to make grandiose claims with dubious foundations, and in their defence, the four singles they’ve released – ‘King City’, ‘Honey’, ‘The Sea’ and ‘She Changes The Weather’ – probably amount to a more impressive body of work than most of the dimly remembered early-90s wallflowers they sound like.
That nothing else on this debut album can quite match up to those songs shouldn’t come as too much of a jaw-dropper. ‘King City’ buzzes with an adolescent certainty of belief in a Brummie-centric universe, and is probably the best track to emerge from the scene so far. It should also go without saying that for as long as he lives, Williams will probably never write a better lyric than the kiss-off of, “Fuck your romance, I wanna pretend/That Jenny Lee Lindberg is my girlfriend”. Still, a surfeit of big, primary-coloured choruses that make the listener feel like a disembodied head floating through a Soup Dragons video ensure the likes of ‘Francisco’ and ‘Soul Trippin’’ at least run those superlative singles close. More so than any of their B-Town contemporaries, pop songwriting seems to come naturally to Swim Deep.
No, the bigger problem is an overall lack of dynamism. The ramshackle energy and unpredictability of their live show has been sanded down into something more clinical and precise, and at points – the limp and languid ‘Red Lips I Know’ springs to mind – they sound less like the green shoots of Britain’s most exciting new scene, and more like gladioli wilting under the weight of their own not-botheredness. The worst offender, the happy-clappy, wishy-washy ‘Make My Sunshine’, resembles the sort of thing grunge was required to scour from the musical cistern with elbow grease and self-hatred.
These all feel like classic first-album issues – Blur, remember, had to get ‘Leisure’ out of the way before they could make the improved ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ – and despite Swim Deep’s relative youth and apparent inexperience, there’s enough here to suggest they’ll eventually overcome them. Certainly, you couldn’t wish for a better album closer than ‘She Changes The Weather’, a roiling, unrestrained cloudburst of a song that seems to survey the world through a pair of acid-tinted teashades and, tantalisingly, hints at a much more expansive, ambitious sound to come. Until then, if Swim Deep truly want to become a fixed point of reference for future generations, they’ll need to work harder to transcend their own inspirations.