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V/A - Swim Team #2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Swim Team #2

Label: Swim~

Review date: Jan. 15, 2003

Newman's Water Music

For those who haven't tested the waters yet, Swim~ is a London-based record company run by Wire guitarist/vocalist Colin Newman and wife Malka Spigel, formerly the bass player with Minimal Compact. Following on from Water Communication (1997) and Swim Team #1 (2000), this is the third Swim~ sampler.

In these days of ever-proliferating post-rock genres, Swim~ wryly bills itself as a "post-everything" label, boasting a diverse group of musicians working primarily at the atmospheric, melodic end of the electronic spectrum. While it's difficult to identify a singular "label sound," evidence suggests that there's certainly something in the water (cooler) at Swim~ HQ: many of the label's artists partake of a similar aesthetic, often operating at the interface of digital and organic musics, bringing traces of a rock sensibility – as well as traditional rock instrumentation – to bear on their electronica.

Running the stylistic gamut from beatless soundscapes to relatively conventional song-based pop to beat-heavy grooves, the 19 tracks collected here (most of which are previously unreleased) offer another excellent primer to the multifaceted roster of artists on the books at Swim~.

Its title notwithstanding, the pulsing ambient textures of "Stale Air on a City Morning" by Symptoms (aka Klaus Ammitzbøll) are quite beautiful, suggesting an updated version of early Tangerine Dream. In a similar vein, albeit less lush, is the austere, droning "2MStens" by Immersion (a Newman/Spigel alias).

While their work as Immersion has ventured into more minimal, abstract territory, the couple's solo recordings under their own names have regularly displayed a catchy avant-pop sensibility. That's showcased on several tracks here. Combining looping guitar patterns and haunting vocals (backwards and in Hebrew), Spigel's "Antimatter" shows continuity with her albums Rosh Ballata and My Pet Fish. Recalling material from his 1997 release Bastard, Newman's instrumental "Tsunami" is an anthemic mix of big beats and buzzing guitars.

The blend of electronics and rock that characterizes Newman's work often comes close to capturing the essence of the elusive Swim~ sound but on this compilation the definitive electronic/rock hybrid is the hypnotic "Root" by the Danish trio Silo. Still, Newman evens the score with a "boss remix" (boss's remix?) of Silo's "Prime Movers." The accelerated, mesmerizingly repetitive results anticipate the direction of Wire's new series of Read & Burn mini-albums.

Emphasizing that this is very much a family affair, Newman and Spigel's 12-year-old son, Ben, even contributes a couple of solo numbers (as Bumpy). He made his debut at the age of ten on Swim Team #1 with "Pizza," a chunky slice of primitive techno, and these new cuts offer further evidence of his precocious talent with samples and beats: "Bumpy on the Beach" has an infectious house groove, while the slower, heavier, and funkier "Blokey" features the wunderkind's fledgling axe-work. This is music by a kid, sure, but it's not kids' music.

Swim Team #2 is a near-perfect sampler. At 70 minutes, it offers both quantity and quality and introduces listeners to an array of exciting musicians. If, by the end of the CD, your interest isn't piqued and you don't feel the need to seek out further material by some of these artists, then you may need your ears syringed. And if you really can't stand this record, then it's a negligible financial loss -- at under ten dollars, Swim Team #2 offers 21st-century electronica for a 1980s price.

By Wilson Neate

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