Swain – The Single

The Single

Pity the plight of the common man. Long has he suffered the stench of the sewers, the break of his back, and the thinning of his soles. Long has his face been held to the cold, hard cobblestone of the street by the ruthless bourgeoisie, forced to mingle with the spit and tar of the earth. Wither the working class, who have but one respite: self-produced electronic music. A brief respite against the torture of the ruling class, the advent of technology has allowed every single plebian this side of the equator to strike back with generic techno music. Revolution!
You know this guy. Everybody knows this guy. The kid who spends a lot of time by the computer, who you heard “might have sort of sent a demo away to Warp … and they liked it and he like, might get signed.” This sort of common-man laptop pop has become all too common in the last few years. Skewered beats, haunting, synthesized tones, and occasional bass rumbles characterize this stuff. One could get righteous and mouth off about how they don’t do it as well as the innovators – Autechre, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada – but, to their credit, the innovators don’t do it as well as the innovators used to (check the latest releases by Aphex Twin and Squarepusher for evidence).
So it’s not surprise that Swain – a one-man band about whom little is known – comes out of the speakers sounding like an amalgam of many of the artists mentioned above. The beats are choppy and occasionally hard to follow. The placid, lifeless keyboards try awfully hard to recall childhood nostalgia, and the IDM flavor of the moment – actual, organic sounds – make some appearances.
The opening moments of the record start especially slow. Scattered industrial percussion pushes to the forefront before a fuzzy bass rounds out the mix. The song proceeds like this for a couple of minutes before something strange happens – an inspired, moment pierces the song. The end of “The Single” features organic, swelling horns that while not totally original are easily the album’s strongest, most realized moment. The rest of the disc doesn’t fare so well. Swain is obviously infatuated with many of the Warp artists listed above, and while that isn’t cause for concern, the sterile, unoriginal techno he puts forth is. The music is barely worth describing, simply because the descriptions and comparisons have been made before. It’s “schizophrenic,” “claustrophobic,” and “wiry.” “Oh! It’s Love” is the obligatory toybox track, and “Hours Like Days” the predictable “guitar and synthesized noise” track.
Swain doesn’t sound like an amateur, though that may have as much to do with the advance in electronic technology as it does Swain’s production. He certainly has an ear for ominous, grinding electronica, but there’s just not enough substance on The Single to merit repeated listens.