ONLY SWALLOW “S.F.” (Illuminated Paths)

I pressed play on Only Swallows new tape S.F. on Florida’s Illuminated Paths, and I immediately wished that M83 was still making good music circa Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. (Seriously, have you heard Junk? It’s … junk.) It’s probably a bit disingenuous to slap a “shoegaze” tag on Only Swallow, as was done to turn-of-the-century M83, but they’ve certainly got the cinematic synthesizer vibe down that made me love the French rascals so much in their earliest incarnation. Only Swallow steps back from that template, though, and eschews any sort of bombast, or even beat much of the time, preferring instead to allow the synthesizers to stretch languidly over futuristic city landscapes in the rain – think Blade Runner, and of course Vangelis and Tangerine Dream and their ilk, and you’re there.

It’s probably not fair to continue to saddle Only Swallow with comparisons because S.F. is such a great tape on its own merits. The synths sure do glisten, and they’re poured on thick in places for maximum envelopment. They drift, they dance, they score the moments we fall in love. There’s so much movement in so many different ways, it’s surprising to hear it all come together so effortlessly. “Night We Met” is a good case in point: its starts quietly and somewhat chorally, even, with vocal patches the highlight, before it gradually increases its pace like the heart rates of two new lovers. It’s a great metaphor for the whole album, as Only Swallow clearly has the melodrama of human life on the mind (see, particularly, “Life” to prove my point). But the melodrama here is still mostly interior, as opposed to (here we go again) the in-your-faceness of Anthony Gonzalez’s output. I guess it’s easy to make the comparison, as much as I don’t want to do it, because Only Swallow springs from a similar place. I only hope this project sticks closer to its excellent roots as it progresses into the future. So far, so good.

--Ryan Masteller