Album Premiere/Review: Swim Camp’s “Barlow Hill”

Swim Camp

Barlow Hill

(Z Tapes)

Today, we’re honored to premiere Barlow Hill, the latest album from Philadelphia singer/songwriter Tom Morris aka Swim Camp.

The follow-up to the 2017 debut SCUBABarlow Hill is both a lush record with a dramatic bent and a warm, performatively subdued effort of intimate emo chamber folk. The songs are slow and gorgeous with the ethereal plane and grounded reality tugging on each end. Opener “Flood” starts with loud unaccompanied acoustic guitar before being joined by shuffling, thunderous drums, bright, floating electric leads, and sober vocals that blend angst and maturity. Towards the end, swirling synths emerge and amplify the song’s soaring, nostalgic power. While Barlow Hill is largely tonally consistent, its apparent immediately that this is a more focused, deliberate, and purposeful work than SCUBA. Whether it be the frequently featured swelling violin contributions from Molly Germer (who also notably played on Alex G’s Rocket), the pitched-up harmonized vocals at the end of “Windshield Wiper”, the creaking piano balladry and rattling ambient post-rock of interludes “Herder” and “Grain” respectively, or the spacy synths on songs such as “Mighty Son” and “Pickup” (the latter of which also possess the slightest hints of a country twang), Barlow Hill effortlessly pulls together a number of disparate musical ideas that form a seamless, cohesive whole.

 

swim camp press kit cool 4

The humble, yet deep and clear recordings and mixes (credit to the production from Mark Watter and mastering from Matt Poirier) along with the abundant emotional frankness is the stitching that holds it all together. The conceptualization for Barlow Hill began in a cabin in North Carolina, its location the album’s namesake, where Morris simply wrote and hiked in solitude for a week. While closer “Bug Spray” is the only demo to make the final cut (the album was largely recorded later at Headroom Studios in February 2018), that time is preserved through these recordings. Barlow Hill is a self-reflective stroll through a forest of lucid dreams.

As hinted at before, while Swim Camp is still very much the brainchild of Morris, Barlow Hill sees him invite more musicians in to help realize his vision. In addition to Germer, Max Kulicke and Brian Hurlow of Carroll offer their talents with guitar and vocal contributions respectively. This still leaves the lion’s share of instrumentation to Morris, from strings to keys to percussion, all of which have taken notable strides forward.

 

Originally premiered via Various Small Flames, the music video for Swim Camp’s “Pretty Bird”, directed and edited by Bob Sweeney, is a grainy home movie of Tom hiking through the forest to bury a box, potentially/presumably a time capsule symbolically representative of a past he wishes to relinquish: at least until a time where he has distanced himself from it and can eventually appreciate its role in his growth.

 

tom kat rogers

You can stream Barlow Hill in its entirety below:

 

Favorite tracks: “Pretty Bird”, “Mighty Son, “Bug Spray”

Rating: Essential

 

Barlow Hill officially releases tomorrow (April 19) digital and cassette via Z Tapes. The cassette release is limited to 70 copies and includes traditional Slovakian sweets, a Z Tapes sticker, and a thank-you note along with the tape. The album is available for pre-order here right now.

Further reading from Various Small Flames and The Key.

Follow Swim Camp on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and Spotify.

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