Courtney Swain – Between Blood and Ocean
There are scores of albums which fall short of expectations, and a rare handful that go above and beyond, but there is an undervalued third option. The albums that hit the nail on the head precisely, the ones which deliver on everything that they promise. If, like me, you go into Between Blood and Ocean expecting an even mix of Bent Knee’s technical eccentricity and the stripped back balladry of Courtney’s most recent EP, then consider your wish granted.
The piano-led moments and the more avant garde material, despite on paper being on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, feel perfectly at home together here thanks in no small part to Courtney’s incomparable range and versatility. Mostly the two sides of the coin remain just that, but you do find some interesting blending of styles in places. ‘Silver Needle of Pine’ and ‘Hekla’ start out in soft piano territory before gradually expanding their sound into bizarre and wondrous new forms. The latter with tortured fuzzy guitar tones and the former with wonderfully adventurous percussion to boot.
The demented funk stomp of ‘I’d Kill’ and the general “I don’t know what the fuck it is but I love it” vibe of ‘Don’t Look at Me’ inject plenty of fun and energy into the record. Sadly the lyrics tend to be somewhat hard to discern in these more upbeat offerings, which is a real shame given how much they shine in the softer moments. ‘Sand Angels’ in particular ends the record on an elegant high, with vivid and arresting lyricism, Courtney’s flawless dreamy vocals, and an atmosphere reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘True Love Waits’. The album’s only major misstep is in the vocoder effects on ‘White Trees’. They’re very unnecessary and distracting at the best of times, even more so here being used to mask one of the finest voices in music in recent years. Aside from this Between Blood and Ocean is everything I could have asked for; a unique offering that is hands down one of the stand-out releases of the year thus far.