The words 'shoegaze' and 'Brooklyn' - when combined - are often greeted with a knowing disbelief with regards to the authenticity of such a combination: a combination of words which has all the hallmarks of PR exaggeration and tomfoolery. The reality is, of course, that few of the many, many acts who claim this once derided genre as their own actually adhere to many of its characteristics - it is often merely a term used to lazily group acts together who sometimes use reverb and pedals. Mixed with the ultra cool connotations of Brooklyn you have a recipe for a hipster induced rash which no amount of guitar effects will soothe. Thankfully Widowspeak have distanced themselves from this most misunderstood, most hijacked of genres into which they were shoehorned; and on The Swamps EP, the results pay dividends.
Like on their previous release, 2011's stunning Almanac, the band show themselves to be refreshingly original - by no means pandering to the nostalgic, derivative nature of many of their contemporaries. The Swamps is a record of mystery and atmosphere, one that embodies the vague, fantastical curiosity of its title excellently.
Largely acoustic, it is a drowsy, potent EP: Dorothy's ill-advised jaunt through the poppy field played out with hand drums and mandolins. 'Theme from the Swamps' fades in this acoustic melancholy, washing in and out with a plink-plunk of guitar, breathy lyric-less vocals and soft, subtle drums. When lyrics are used on the record, they are often barely discernible, acting instead as an instrument that combines with the others to make a sound that somehow is both calm and intense. The guitars and drums swell and contract, gently creeping up on the listener- harnessing and engulfing.
An anomaly comes at the mid point of the EP in the comparatively upbeat 'Brass Bed'- a track in which a certain jauntiness lifts the cloud of close, mysterious atmospherics. Providing an almost jarring contrast, it is difficult to discern whether the track adds a breath of fresh air or detracts from the atmosphere- nonetheless it is excellent when taken by itself; all lush harmonies, playful piano and jangling guitars.
'Brass Bed' aside, the claustrophobia of The Swamps is palpable, and can be grating as time progresses. It is certainly impressive, but enjoyable? Not so much. What Widowspeak have done here is create a record that is so vivid and heavy that it becomes somewhat sickly. But to create an atmosphere and a feeling as intense as this is not to be scoffed at. But we'd hope that they've fully waded out of this particular swamp by the next record.
7Jon Clark's Score