Album Review: “Water Gods” by Swamp Baby

ALBANY — Swamp Baby, whose previous release was over nine years ago, came back strongly with Water Gods; their release this past December. I was very glad to have finally sat down with this record. As I listened, one thing became abundantly clear throughout: Swamp Baby knows how to utilize orchestral instrumentation.

Throughout the record, recurring orchestral motifs floated in and out of the various songs’ instrumentation. As a result, this record had an extremely cohesive texture and sound. The first track, “Identified Submerged Object,” featured lush piano, ambient vocals, and pleasant, airy violins. The last vocal note sung in this track was the song’s highest, which effectively segued into an instrumental outro. The latter component of this song was a device frequently revisited throughout Water Gods. In fact, the closing and title track “Water Gods,” ended in a very similar fashion.

Another facet of this album was its effective use of a synthesizer that acted as a sort of underlying pad to the music. By using the synthesizer in this regard, the band effectively bolstered and filled out the sonic spectrum of the record. This was especially heard in “Master of the Sun” (track two). The higher register male vocal utilized for most of this album and especially on this track was highly reminiscent of Band of Horses.

If I had to, I would quantify Water Gods as an indie-rock record. There were a plethora of very ear-grabbing and quirky elements that I enjoyed upon first blush with the record. For example, the piano textures – sometimes veering into strongly dissonant sounds – in “Devil Dances Good” and “Paradox Lake,” tracks three and four respectively, were excellent additions to these songs. Combining that with the eerie, yet intriguing male and female vocals, I feel, made these very good examples of the band’s songwriting abilities. What I really liked about the latter tune, is that it featured a lower registered male voice, which served well to contrast the typical higher voices that were spotlighted on the album.

Track five, “Prelude to Headcount,” worked well on two levels. First, as it suggested in its name, its orchestration flowed perfectly into the following song “Headcount at Lovers’ Bay.” Interestingly enough, however, due to the fact that Water Gods is nine tracks long, the prelude also quite literally bisected the album. It musically stated not only the end of the first half, but set up the second half quite well by introducing new musical motifs.

The last three tracks of the album, “Glass Casket,” “Narcissus Sings,” and “Water Gods,” featured more of the same elements that made this album so nice. The rich orchestration and its presence, in my view, only grew stronger as the album developed. There were great examples of counterpoint, as well as great polyrhythmic sections (for a great example, check out the vocals in the outro of “Narcissus Sings”)

A great album front-to-back, Water Gods showed listeners Swamp Baby’s ability to orchestrate, arrange, and blend their music. The one comment I’d make is that sometimes the vocals were a bit hard to decipher, but not to any degree that detracted from the quality of music. An interesting aspect of this album is that percussion was all but non-existent; there was some heard in the way back of “Glass Casket.” The other day, someone asked what albums I might listen to on a rainy day, and I can easily add this to the list. It fits that vibe perfectly! You can check out the album by following the link below.

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