PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Swayzak: Some Other Country

The fifth album from the unique UK electronica duo gives a nod to their acclaimed moody and minimal early work. Go ahead and call it a comeback -- of sorts.


Swayzak

Some Other Country

Label: K7
US Release Date: 2007-08-28
UK Release Date: Unavailable
Amazon
iTunes

When a band's press material enthusiastically claims that said band are "their old selves again", it's usually a red flag. You can assume that the band has been around awhile, had early critical success, and then strayed from the blueprint -- alienating more than a few fans and critics along the way. The claim is really just another version of the cliché "return to form", which is code for "we know we're not that cool anymore, and our last album was disappointing; but now we're trying to do more of what made you like us in the first place, so give us another chance -- please." Now, some of the original techno/electronica acts of the '90s are getting old enough to make these claims.

Take Swayzak, for example. London's James Taylor and David Brown have been trading under that name for a decade now. As with many, many other acts, electronica and non-, their first couple albums are their best-known and most-loved. In particular, 1998's Snowboarding in Argentina put their heady, dubby, minimal techno-house in the minds of critics and listeners. Over the course of three subsequent albums, Swayzak expanded its sound to include more ethnic influences, and contracted it to wrap around more pop tendencies; namely, vocals. Their previous studio release, 2004's Loops from the Bergerie, was regarded by some as their least substantial album to date. Hence, last year's remix/rarities wrap-up Route de la Slack made sense, as does the "weee're back!" marketing angle.

And there's something to that angle. While very much its own animal, Some Other Country does look back to the clean, thoughtful sounds that made Snowboarding such a success. The best thing about Swayzak has always been their ability to make minimal, machine-generated arrangements sound heavy, not in the sense of loudness but in the sense of deep thought and concentration. Some Other Country has plenty of moments like that, where you sense Taylor and Davis labored at the console until they got the detail just right.

Take "Distress and Calling", one of the album's best tracks -- the way the synth line rises, crests, and falls to invoke a sunset perfectly; or the hi-hat rattles that punctuate the track. You've heard flourishes like these in countless other techno compositions, but few sound as effective as they do here. Or, there's the way the submerged sequencer pattern that underpins "Silent Luv" is a subtle yet unmistakable update of Pink Floyd's "On the Run", and the way the laughable "angst" of the guest vocalist from Italian band Les Fauves singing "Silent love is bet-ter than a spoken one" mocks the self-conscious austerity of the Floyd. You can't help but be impressed at the way "Quiet Life" builds methodically from a sole voice to a thundering symphony of timpani, synths, and static.

On the best of Some Other Country, all that labor sounds effortless. "No Sad Goodbyes", featuring regular collaborator Richard Davis on vocals, is the clear standout. The rippling, gently pulsing synths provide a suitably dreary soundtrack for Davis' trip "…back to the dark streets / Paved with good intentions". With its white-noise crashes, chime-like synths and resigned tone, it's like an update of Depeche Mode's early-'80s gem "Leave In Silence", and a strong contender for slowburner/comedown track of the year. Like most of the album, it moves along at Swayzak's signature 4/4, 120-ish BPM clip, just steady and forceful enough to dance to if you wanted.

On other occasions, though, the beat alone isn't enough to keep you engaged. "Pukka Bumbles" and "By the Rub of Love" do away with vocals and up the intensity to near-industrial levels, but they feel like Taylor and Brown trying too hard -- sometimes a well-established sound without the creative spark feels like going through the motions. The flute-heavy "Claktronic" just sounds like a mistake, an awkward railroading of African music and electro-house. It's as if Swayzak are simply trying to say, "well, look, we could have made another album like this".

Taylor and Brown needn't have been so emphatic in their attempt to re-establish their sound and win back fans (as if there were any question about it, the final track is called "They Return"). Some Other Country is a fine album without all the comeback talk. But if it makes everyone feel better, go ahead and say it: Swayzak are back.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.