Make Notes, Have Plans
Stating your influences on your press release is pretty standard fair for a band.
It provides a framework for the reviewer to place the band in and allows them a way of stating whom they think their contemporaries are and the bands which they feel they should be compared to. However, as a result of providing this framework, it can and often will lead to a very easy character assassination of said band. Take for example Swim Team. They cite only three influences on their one sheet, namely Minus The Bear, Coldplay and Arcade Fire. The question is how has this affected my expectations of Make Notes, Have Plans? Would my listening experience be different if they had an alternate set of influences? Am I already thinking of them in a negative light by expecting a hybrid of those three bands? Or is it a positive light? Has it raised the bar too high or too low when they say they “pay homage to the atmosphere these bands create”?
We must assume that there is a purpose to listing these three specific bands; that there is a reason that they choose to pick these three specific bands and no other influence. To dismiss it as a list of their three favourite bands would be a mistake. Even something as simple as a favourite band still plays a great part in shaping a musician’s style and approach to their chosen instrument. They would constantly judge their musical endeavours in regard to that of their favourite band. To dismiss our list of three bands as just a list of Swim Team’s three favourite bands would be missing the point. This leads to two possible premises, that either they provide these influences as a starting point for the listener, as a frame of reference in which to compare and contrast their output with that of their influences; or, that their list of influences should be disregarded and that Make Notes, Have Plans should be listened to with fresh ears, with scant regard to the accompanying press sheet and all that it promises.
Upon listening to Make Notes, Have Plans according to the first possible premise, Swim Team demonstrate their Minus The Bear influence from the off. ‘Ghost Animation’ begins Make Notes, Have Plans, where a flurry of hi-hats is coupled with a syncopated bassline bearing a large similarity to the style of the aforementioned Seattle five-piece. As the vocals begin, the Coldplay influence becomes apparent. The vocals soar and strain around a hook about “Jesus Christ and his ambition”, not dissimilar to a performance by Chris Martin. Over the course of the next eighteen minutes, Swim Team rarely deviates from this mix of Coldplay style vocals and Minus The Bear style drumming. In keeping with the reference points provided, Make Notes, Have Plans, stays a lot truer to the work of Coldplay than it does of Minus The Bear. The brief flirtations with the technical style that Minus The Bear are known for provide little respite to the debt that Swim Team owes to Coldplay. The combination of epic choruses, delay soaked guitars and earnest vocals that make up the bulk of Make Notes, Have Plans quickly outstays its welcome; at no point does it recall the work of Arcade Fire, and altogether fails to capture anything that makes these bands unique.
Now, let us return to second premise that Make Notes, Have Plans should be thought of independently of the three stated influences, and listened to and reviewed in such a way. ‘Ghost Animation’ begins Make Notes, Have Plans, where a flurry of hi-hats is coupled with a syncopated bassline, before giving way to a soaring, yet strained vocal hook, about “Jesus Christ and his ambition”. The vocals and drums are joined by delay soaked guitars providing a backdrop of fairly standard post-punk revivalist riffs, a style from which Swim Team rarely deviate over the course of five songs, a style which quickly outstays its welcome and fails to elevate Swim Team from anything but a slightly below average indie band.
So it seems that the same conclusion is always reached, be it by following the influence of their press sheet and its points of reference or be it by ignoring the provide framework of influences. If this reviewer may finish by providing his own point of reference for the reader, let it be this. Swim Team sound like Battle. That should contextualise this record better than their whole press sheet.