Haunting folk melodicism meets unabashedly indulgent, spacy songcraft in Wild Sight, the new album from Swimming Bell out this April. Centered around the sterling vocal vitality of singer/songwriter Katie Schottland, Wild Sight offers us shades of melancholic contemplation in “For Brinsley,” existential dreamscapes in “Wolf” and “Left Hand Path,” bucolic balladry in “Good Time, Man” and “Cold Clear Moon,” and startlingly sharp soft pop ala “Love Liked You,” and weaves together a tapestry of troubadour-inspired blue notes and opulent, verse-driven optimism that stands in strong contrast to almost anything you’re likely to find on your FM dial this month. Swimming Bell’s new album is as engaging with listeners texturally as it is captivating lyrically, and though I’ve had the rare pleasure of reviewing some really evocative pieces of music in 2019, none have left the incomparable impression on me that this one has even in the most cursory of listens. It’s a watershed release for Schottland, and a game-changer for the scene that she’s come to tower over in almost every sense.
Wild Sight gets rolling with the understated twang and spindly string churn of “Good Time, Man,” which sets up the tone for “1988” and its pendulous tempo elegantly. “For Brinsley” is one of the most brooding tracks that I’ve ever heard from Swimming Bell, but it’s not an isolated example of Schottland’s impeccably open approach to songwriting in this record. “We’d Find” comes close to resembling something in the style of the Cocteau Twins, but stops short of embracing the uncaged excesses of the post-punk movement that spurred that band onto great success some thirty years ago. Tomo Nakayama’s “Cold Clear Moon” gets a potent refurbishing halfway through the record and makes use of the naturally aching tonality of the melodic mastermind behind Swimming Bell, and alongside the dark textures of “Wolf,” could make for an excellent double-sided single that would blow almost anything currently topping the Billboard charts out of the water. “Wolf” leads us straight into the buoyant “Got Things,” which brings us as close to the contemporary pop model as the LP will get before giving way to the emotive crooning that comprises “Left Hand Path.” I must have listened to “Love Liked You” and “Quietly Calling” a dozen times over when I first got my hands on this album, and while they finish us off in an even brawnier show of strength than we started with, they don’t minimize the affectionate impact of any of the tracks that precede them at all.
It should be said that fans of highbrow folk music won’t find another album quite like Wild Sight this April, and for my money, I don’t know that we’re going to hear another record of its erudite caliber in the entirety of 2019. Katie Schottland has come into her own and developed a punishingly strong musicality that drives every one of the songs in this LP, and while I was expecting a lot out of any sequel she could conceive to follow-up The Golden Heart EP, I could have never guessed just how gilded an offering this latest release would end up being.