10th June | Exchange
Photos: Albert Testani
Carrying the vibes of the scary, cool kids in high school, somewhere between Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, when the members of Swimming Girls aren’t performing, I imagine that they are always preceded by a slight mist when they walk through a door. When they take the stage, it’s as the best ‘battle of the bands’ band that has ever existed.
Formed in Bath, the dream-pop, four-piece came together as a self described ‘musical project’ and has gained national attention through accolades like a feature on BBCIntroducing and a runners-up spot in 2019’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition.
During the writing and recording of their recently released, debut EP, Existential Fears, Swimming Girls took a hard turn into much more serious lyrical terrain. Previously, they released poppy singles one after the other, like ‘Back of Your Car’, where lead singer and guitarist, Vanessa, airily reminisced about lust to synth-laden back beats. While most of the songs are still poppy and stripped with neon, some are brooding with leather and heavy eyeliner.
Existential Fears feels like an almost too on-the-nose title for their EP with nearly every song explicitly pointing out the looming spectre of death hanging over every 1980s-inspired rave. That’s not to say it’s not a fresh, albeit darker, take on the overworked nostalgia angle, looking back and drawing dread as well as inspiration from a decade that seems so far away to some. However, perhaps the most haunting track is ‘1 2 Many’ which is less about partying too hard or the grim reaper will come, and more grounded in the terrors of the real world and the dark side of waking up from a blackout in an unfamiliar setting.
The atheist’s ballad, ‘Pray in Silence’ stripped away the upbeat atmosphere the other tracks created and exposed the songwriting and lead singer’s range, while the agnostic’s dance party, ‘I Don’t Want to Get into Heaven’, pulled the synapses of your brain in the directions of ecstasy and doom. Both off of their recent EP, these two tracks are the best examples of the band progression in songwriting and, live, are the most engaging with the audience.
Their closing song, a cover of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, was a dreamy, alt-pop twist on an already haunting classic, that felt like it could have been played during Buffy’s prom. It was also the most animated that band allowed themselves to be, which was a shame. If the band could work more of this personality into their ‘don’t care so hard’ exterior, it would add more connection to the audience instead of making the set feel totally performative.
It’s easy to focus on the 1980s influences and fashion, and I know I tried to work enough into this review as well, but the deserved buzz around Swimming Girls comes from their twisted, dark alt-pop records. The biggest strength and what keeps you listening to Swimming Girls is the extreme to which their music creates a sense of euphoria. As familiarity sets in and you’ve learned all the lyrics, you freeze instantly, in the middle of swaying back and forth, realize the performance is there for a reason and your sonic existential crisis of faith begins.
Listen to ‘Pray in Silence’ here: