By: Ethan Bloomfield, Staff Writer
[Single Occupancy; 2021]
North Carolina rock trio Sinai Vessel are no stranger to doing a lot with a little. Last year’s excellent and understated Ground Aswim feels like a master class in the use of sparse instrumentation and minimal production to achieve an impactful sound. Track after track is carefully composed and executed beautifully, culminating in what is undoubtedly one of the best indie rock records of 2020. Great news: there’s more.
Read more: Album Review: Sinai Vessel – Ground Aswim
Sinai Vessel released “Swimming” on May 21, and in frontman Caleb Cordes’ words, it was “originally intended as a coda to Ground Aswim.” While the finished album cut this song, and the track “Antechamber” that takes its place is a wonderful endpoint musically, one is easily able to feel the finality in the track. “Swimming” feels lo-fi; in fact, it feels like the most lo-fi of the entire batch of songs, with Cordes’ voice and accompanying strings sounding further away than songs like “Shameplant” or “Guest in Your Life”. While the charming live drums do not make an appearance on the track, it is not to the music’s detriment, as the soft and comfortable vocal harmonies build to a compelling and satisfying intensity as it goes on.
Hold on: what is this song even about? To put it simply, the title “Ground Aswim” and the subject of the song are about the same thing––a flood. The conflict is very simple, with the proclamation of “When we were younger, it was simple / Wet was wet, and dry was dry.” There is an established order or a sort of normal for the characters. The speaker, presumably Cordes, goes on to say that “Our river was lower in the wintertime / In the summer, it was high.” This cycle of things is the speaker’s way of understanding it, and it is scary when this order is broken. He says “I believed my mother / When she said I’d be all right,” a reassurance to calm his nerves. The next line is in stark contrast to this though, saying that “But now we’re folding up our eden / There’s a flood-guard at the gate,” signaling panic and urgency to store and protect the belongings of the house, the sanctuary or the speaker’s “eden” and to get to safety from the quick-moving flood. Sadly, safety doesn’t come.
The flood gets out of control. “Path before / And path behind / Each are washed away” as the tide of water crashes through the property and into the shelter taken by the characters. Reminiscent of “In Corolla” by The Mountain Goats, the prospect of drowning is not met with visible fear or panic but sullen observation and quiet lament. All the speaker has to say is that “Now there’s so much water in between / My favorite ground and me / The ground is all aswim / Aswim as far as I can see” before the song fades quietly away. The listener is left with an uncertain fate for the characters.
Ground Aswim is not a happy record. It is full of confusion, apprehension and slow, quiet sadness. It is also beautiful and worthy of any discerning music listener’s time. The track not only sheds light on the philosophy of the record it was born from, but it also adds to it. On Instagram, Cordes said this song is “The last piece of something, an era, a world,” and this finality makes it such an impactful track. While the sky darkened so much during “Swimming”––and in the world of Ground Aswim––there is surely a bright future ahead for Sinai Vessel.