Do you ever find yourself listening to a band or musician that comes along with something so original that you find yourself asking, “how are these guys not famous yet”? Well, New Orleans Swim Team happens to be exactly that. New Orleans Swim Team is the solo recording project of Alberta based musician and multi-instrumentalist, Jacob Ulickij and this release is the second under this project.
When it comes to self recorded music, typically, punk rock is a signifier of the success one is able to achieve without a record label and for that matter a professional recording studio. Bands recorded and distributed their own demos, EPs, and full lengths, made their own t-shirts, posters, and created their own press though the distribution of zines and word of mouth. It was a genre of music that showcased the hard work and dedication that a generation of young creative people were capable of producing independently. With the rise of the internet, artists have taken advantage of file sharing sites, utilizing mediafire and megaupload to share their music. Now, with the success of Bandcamp and Soundcloud it has made it even easier for artists to independently put out their own releases and allow their music to be heard. It speaks volumes with just how much a band or even one person alone is capable of without the outside help that, labels, expensive recording studios, and “producers” claim to be capable of and Jacob has articulated this fact with the release of ‘To be Something to be Anything’.
It is clear that Jacob has a lot to say; ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ is 21 tracks of short songs, filled with delicately executed spoken word poetry and tender singing. This music is honest as hell and lately, with everything that is happening in the world I feel like a little bit of honesty is exactly we all need. It reads like a novel written in a stream of consciousness and I swear words have never been more perfectly spoken. ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ has an overarching folkish sound, albeit, there is much more to be heard than just one style of music here and instead of making the mistake of pigeonholing the music into a set style, Jacob strove to create a sound of his own.
With the opening track, ‘Overture (Dreamer)’ I was immediately under the assumption that the guys in Sigur Ros had begun a side project. The track plays out like an opener, it is short but it sounds as though the same care that is displayed throughout the rest of the album was applied just as evenly here if not more so. It is as if entire orchestra is warming up; cymbals build and crash while the drums roll on and the winding strings play randomly giving one a sense of fidelity, building anticipation for the next track. Its not just this portion, the entire album is full of a variety of lush instrumentation and sound, spanning from guitar, piano, violin, drums, bass, flute, and horns. What makes it even more impressive is Jacob, as a multi-instrumentalist and his collaborator’s ability to compose and play these instruments proficiently. The dedication and minuet attention to detail is what makes all of this work out so well.
The vocals are distinct and and are generally the focal piece of the music. For some, the vocals may be a turn off considering how raw they can be, perhaps even in a juvenile sense; although, for me this is not so much of a negative thing as it is an important aspect that effects the music positively. As I said before, there is a lot to take in, especially lyrically. Jacob speaks in a manner of rhythmically constrained poetry similar to a stream of consciousness, as though making up the words on the spot which is where the vocals perfectly communicate his words even if I am unable to catch what he is saying all at once. Because the vocals are raw in this juvenile sense it is very easy to identify what emotion is being conveyed, whether it be angry, compassionate, or caring; it is universal in that way. At times his voice quivers indicating something like a nervousness or perhaps a loss of breath in the wake of all the words that are spoken but as soon as the singing comes in he is as confident as ever, not to say the spoken word sections that make up most of the album aren’t just as rewarding. The singing can be heard at the most emotive right from the start of the song, ‘Degrees’ which quickly leads into more of the spoken word vocals just as the track wraps up with a burst of strumming and passionate singing. Sometimes Jacob comes off as sincere as the poetry he speaks while at other times his words communicate a menacing message. ‘Prairie Winter’ is a statement of biting cynicism, one that is dark and heavy without being loud; a sharply executed track. On ‘Wanderlust’ Jacob showcases his ability to access a more aggressive sound in terms of vocal dynamics, one that exhibits his capabilities of screaming, which is achieved surprisingly well considering the primarily reserved nature that is practiced in his craft. The final and longest track, ‘Whatever You Want to Be’ is an epic full of cymbal crashes and builds. All of the Instrumentation eventually cuts out and the listener is left only with Jacob’s articulate and masterful poetry before the instrumentation eventually makes its appearance again as the track finishes up. It could not be a more perfect finish to this album.
Although ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ was recorded in the back of a house it does not show any signs of a loss in sound quality. Everything comes through in so crisply, it is obvious from the masterful recording and mixing and the attention to the clarity of all the instruments coming through that nothing was sacrificed at the expense of a lo-fi set-up. At times the lo-fi nature of the album is apparent but otherwise, if I were unaware of the background regarding this release I would have been under the assumption that the album was recorded professionally. That said, if one person is capable of composing, recording, and producing all of this it leaves me to question the legitimacy of what is considered “professional” recording. Whether it was intentional or not this piece of music speaks beyond the limitations of sound, working as a statement; one that indicates a distinct work ethic within the individual.
There is a lot of experimentation that shows through in this release but even so I would not go as far as to call this an experimental record at all seeing as the experimental elements work out in a very unified way being that there is a sense of direction here and to label it experimental would be doing it a disservice. ‘To be Something, to be Anything’ is a tale depicted in the most sensual way with a certain familiarity and yet, at times so distant that just as soon as you think you have tackled it you find yourself swallowing your words and throwing out all of those Listener comparisons, searching for something other than “beautiful” to describe it by. This is inspirational; an enjoyable and refreshing listen, one that I cannot recommend enough. Thank you.
Overall Rating: 9.3
Favorite Track: Degrees, Wanderlust, Prairie Winter, Whatever You Want To Be
Recommended: Fans of Listener; something to accompany you during the fall season. A piece of music to watch the leaves fall to.