Review Summary: Swarms become more self aware on Black Chapel Sun.
Six long years after the release of their incredible debut album Old Raves End, Swarms are back with a worthy follow-up which sees their ambient and experimental tendencies taking the forefront. In the years since Old Raves End, the Bristol based electronic trio have released two EPS, 2012’s Low Sun being a quite disappointing effort in which they almost completely abandoned the aspects of their music that helped them gain a following. Red Temple Rain was then released in 2016, an EP which showed them returning to their signature sound and included one of their best songs to date “Chicane” as well as five additional good but ultimately forgettable tracks. The future of the group was uncertain, but fans are treated to a fantastic LP with Black Chapel Sun, a diverse and emotive record that almost reaches the highs of Old Raves End.
The LP kicks off with “Self Aware”. Beautifully lush and flanger drenched piano chords flow in; most likely contributed by Stumbleine, one of three members of Swarms who has an impressive catalog of music on his own. Massive bass swells then enter with the signature chopped vocals that have become so prevalent in the genre. It’s somewhat of an epic opener, which sets the stage for what’s to come. There’s no beat, instead the track is more of a soundscape transporting the listener to a dark rain-soaked city. I can’t help but think of Blade Runner 2049 while listening to this album. Partly because I saw the film right after listening to this but regardless, a mood of cyber-punk is strong with the album. The connection between organic life, emotions and technology. The juxtaposition of a lonely city dweller within a massive futuristic city. A world where everything is connected, yet everyone feels alone. The album embodies a feeling of artificial intelligence, where very real human emotions are driving the digitally created compositions. Towards the end of the first track, it segways into an ambient interlude where distant spoken word samples can be heard in the background. It’s a conversation between a man and woman, he asks if she “wants to hear it talk” and she answers with an excited yes. What follows is a robotic voice, conscious artificial intelligence. Where sometimes spoken word sections feel shoehorned in in many modern electronic songs, this is tastefully placed and helps to create a concept around the entire record.
The next track “Red Sun” is probably the closest thing to a hit that Swarms has released. It wouldn’t sound out of place on an Odesza album and it carries a more positive vibe than the more somber atmosphere that the rest of the album possesses. It’s perfectly catchy, and it sits nicely at the front of the album. The beats on this album are spectacular. Equally groovy and meditative, every sound is perfectly placed, always dense and technical without ever sounding too busy. Swarms has always had a knack for melody as well as wide pads, plucked synths and arpeggiated keys swarm in and out of the music. This is definitely an album that benefits from listening on headphones as you can more clearly hear the attention to detail present on every song. The music doesn’t immediately grab the listener as it did in Old Raves End, but repeat listens reveal a very well-crafted album.
Black Chapel Sun does drag a little towards the middle of the run time and some songs come off as somewhat unorganized as they feel like two songs forced together into one. However the album ends on a high note with arguably Swarms best song yet, "Dust2Dust". Everything in the track sits perfectly. The mix is flawless and the beat starts minimal but develops into a masterwork of percussion. Swirling pads form a dark atmospheric backdrop while beautiful piano lines and vocal samples add a shimmering glow on top. It’s great to hear Swarms at the top of their game once again and Black Chapel Sun makes for an enjoyable listen and a great addition to their discography.