Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly for Swim Deep over the last four years. After putting out the mind-meltingly brilliant second album ‘Mothers’ in 2015, they parted ways with their major label home of Chess Club/RCA and then, months later, saw two of their founding members – drummer Zack Robinson and guitarist Higgy – go their separate ways. Other groups might have seen those events as a sign to call it daym, but bassist Cav McCarthy, singer/guitarist Austin Williams and keyboard player James Balmont dug their heels in, recruited new members Thomas Fiquet and Robbie Wood, and set about rebuilding.
Their third album ‘Emerald Classics’ undoubtedly proves that this was the right decision. Swim Deep have never sounded as good as they do here, even with two great albums under their belts already. Weathering the gloomier moments of the past few years seems to have brought the band through the dark and into even brighter territory than before – as is often the case when life presents challenges. In this instance, that’s resulted in songwriting that’s breathtaking, moving, and boldly inventive.
The band have described the album as having the feeling of a jukebox in a pub where everyone knows everyone. That idea of familiarity and home is one that runs throughout ‘Emerald Classics’, its textured layers acting as sonic comfort blankets. See the Spiritualized comedown shuffle of ‘Never Stop Pinching Yourself’ or the gorgeous New Order romance of ‘0121 Desire’; the latter positions the group’s local as both a sanctuary and somewhere to dream of escape.
On opener ‘To Feel Good’, Swim Deep take things back to a time before they were one of Birmingham’s buzziest new bands, Williams recounting a day in his 18-year-old life as a self-proclaimed “paperweight cruiser” and “heavyweight loser”, when he signed on and ran errands for his mum. “As I’m walking away, he said, ‘Don’t forget me when you’re famous’,” he recalls, over gentle, baggy piano and gospel vocals, of one particular job centre employee.
There are moments of true beauty present here. ‘Sail Away, Say Goodbye’, written about Williams’ grandma succumbing to dementia, attempts to put a positive spin on a disease usually spoken about in much darker terms. “You see life much differently / And you see things people don’t see,” he sings over glittering ‘80s synths. “I won’t tell you what is right or wrong.” Family crops up again on ‘Top Of The Pops’, another of the album’s dizzying highlights. “I wanna be on Top Of The Pops for you / I wanna move you to Beverly Hills for the view,” the frontman begins, before he asks: “Mother, why you leaning on Heaven for?” The message seems to be that she doesn’t need the promise of religion when she’s got him.
Through the swooning, lush indie-pop, there’s also plenty of sonic exploration, even if it is a little dialled-down from the out-of-this-world mission of ‘Mothers’. ‘Happy As Larrie’ marries a crashing jungle beat with glimmering melodies, making it feel as though you’re stepping out from an Ibiza rave into the morning sun, pupils still dilated, chemicals still racing through your system.That’s really the pervading feeling of ‘Emerald Classics’ – a wide-eyed, serotonin rush of an album that will make you eternally grateful for Swim Deep’s perseverance.