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  Swimming Across the Sound  
  Skipping Stones Records  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Indoor Miner  

Sometimes it pays to be patient. It's certainly a good job that I didn't review Swimming Across the Sound after two or three plays. Otherwise, I would have awarded it a couple of sponges and then told Superfallingstars to go away and write a few tunes, because those on offer just weren't sinking in. But being the hard-working and conscientious Minion that I am, I locked myself in the Sponge Cave with a CD player and my sponge pen and paper and didn't let myself out until I knew these songs inside out.

And the verdict…well, it's a lot better than I initially thought. The tunes that I didn't think memorable had wormed their way into my head, and the backing vocal arrangements that I didn't think worked, suddenly did!

The band in question, Superfallingstars, hail from Connecticut. However, they actually remind me most of late 70's UK band Squeeze, and not just because they knock out little vignettes with hooklines. One of their singers, Mike Sembos, sounds not unlike Squeeze's lead vocalist, Glenn Tilbrook. And again, like Squeeze, they also have another singer, JJ Jacobsen, whose voice is pitched in the lower regions, though admittedly his vocal style is more Bowie than Chris Difford. Swimming Across the Sound, their first full length release, was recorded on a four track in what the band modestly claim to be "a remarkable feat of DIY engineering". They've got a point, because although you can hear a condensed element, especially where instruments merge into wall of sound, it works. And the album certainly doesn't sound cheap and nasty.

The album opens with Gravity Girl, the only number clocking in over three minutes. For those old enough to remember the NME's C86 showcase cassette way back when, there's a similar lively, thrashy feel, but the best tracks are yet to come. Going Nowhere and Even Though, two of the tracks with Jacobsen's Bowie-like vocals, are both highlights. The former has a great chorus whilst the latter, a song about loving someone despite their, ahem, faults, is my favourite track on the album. And the line, "I love you though you're depressing" certainly brought a smile to my face. Actually, come to think of it, I'd like to hear Morrissey sing it!

But in case I'm showing unnecessary bias to Jacobsen, it's only right I should mention the catchy It's Over, sung by Sembos. This is one of the tracks that reminds me of Squeeze. I could definitely imagine Difford rhyming situation with stagnation, and singing "You're the greatest thing" before contradicting himself by adding, "It's over". It's Over also boasts a particularly strong group performance with lovely chords and bass runs, and snappy drums courtesy of William Knapp.

I'm still less keen on a couple of tracks, though. The Fall (not, alas, a tribute to Mark E Smith and gang), another Squeeze-like track, has a touching "Another summer somehow slipped away" chorus, but the added jazzy guitars aren't really my cup of tea. Likewise, Better Off, despite its nice 60's folky feel and tambourine, is ultimately not memorable enough and it just sounds too, well, "protest song" for my liking. Guaranteed to appeal to Billy Bragg fans though!

Swimming Across the Sound ends strongly, however. Time To Go has a beautiful, gently strummed intro and some Ziggy Stardust crooning, before suddenly building up to a "time to go" refrain. It also features some of those backing vocal arrangements that I didn't like on early plays, but which actually work really well. We then get a knockabout version of The Smiths' classic Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want. But whereas Morrissey seemed to be pleading to a more powerful force for a better life, Superfallingstars sound more like kids asking their moms for their favourite ice lolly. And whilst it's an enjoyable run-thru, I can't help thinking an extended version of Time To Go would have been a better place to leave things.

Still, Swimming Across the Sound is a promising debut all the same, although it will likely need a little time to sink in.

Related Links: -- their label. -- their homepage.


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