Review of Knows No Boundaries by Super Water Sympathy
Is today’s music landscape at risk of an “Alt-Indie” overdose? Maybe not…
Yes, Alternative/Independent music is far more mainstream and commercial than originally intended. Bands that would’ve only been popular with the Triple J crowd (think Gotye, Kimbra, Foster the People, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys) are being embraced by a wider audience. After the recent Aussie Triple J Hottest 100 (an annual chart countdown on the national Indie station, as voted by the people), some of my friends joked it should’ve been called the Hottest Commercial 100.
The crossover’s not new, of course. A couple of years ago, Robert Helbig wrote about the struggle to define music genres, none more than Indie: “With no clear reference point or outline,” he wrote, “Indie music has spilled over musical boundaries and seeped into almost every genre available.” Similarly, Craig Schuftan remembers when Nirvana hit the big time: “by the end of 1991 and certainly through 1992, there were people grumbling in the music press that ‘alternative’ doesn’t mean anything any more.”
Allow me a moment on my soapbox. Part of authentic Indie’s appeal was and is its other-ness; underground, quirky, rebellious. The crossover of Indie and Top 40 makes me a little cynical that any new Indie band will just be more of the same. Is anyone out there making something different, creative, experimental?? And even if it ticks those boxes, is it something I’ll enjoy listening to?
Yes! Enter Super Water Sympathy (SWS), a five-piece outfit from Louisiana, USA. Brothers Billy and Clyde Hargrove (bass and guitar), Ryan Robinson (drums), Jason Mills (keys), and Ansley Hughes (vocals) got together in 2010. They were self-booked and self-managed until August last year, when they signed with with Alex Steineger’s Portland, Oregon-based Indie label In Music We Trust. Talk about independent.
They do the genre-hybrid thing, but as far as I know, they’re the only ones who play ‘Water Pop’; their self-classified genre is “a blend of classic symphonic ambience with modern rock’n’roll”.
“Our music can be described in lots of ways,” Hughes says, “We just write what we want to write and we sing what we want to sing. So I guess, we could be responding to the “rules” of songwriting in a contradictory way. We don’t believe there should be any rules to art. Music listeners have been brainwashed to believe a song should
sound, or be structured a certain way. And we believe it’s the bands who say – “Well, we’re doing it our way” that tend to last.”
So, what’s Super Water Sympathy’s “way”? “Catchy melodies, tasteful musicianship, with a hint of obscurity and things that don’t quite make sense,” says Hughes.
Responding to my hackneyed “Where do your song ideas come from?” question, Hughes is delightfully tongue-in-cheek (I think). “From an underground, crystal aquifer, roughly 5000 miles beneath Mount Vesuvius. It is guarded by the spirits of Wesley Willis and John Wilkes Booth. And as the Phoenix comes at sundown, the glitter streams erupt.”
But Hughes says it’s not enough to create a fresh, new sound that’s still enjoyable to any audience. “All you have to do after that is work as hard as you can to make sure your music is exposed.” And she’s not just waxing lyrical about the hard work. As well as playing to packed Southeastern USA venues for years, SWS can boast writing and producing credits on ‘Chandelier’ from B.o.B’s Strange ‘Clouds’ album, and having songs from their debut album, ‘Vesper Belle’, featured on the MTV’s series, Caged.
On the back of Vesper Belle’s release in 2011, the band toured the US twice. Mid- last year, they joined forces with producer Cam Blackwood (Florence + The Machine, Coldplay, Morrissey) to record their second full-length album, ‘Hydrogen Child’. The collaboration is already paying off; Super Water Sympathy previewed the material at the 2012 Vans’ Warped Tour Indie rock festival to a great response from the crowd.
Slated for release on April 23, Hughes says while their music is a work in progress, ‘Hydrogen Child’ “definitely has a feeling that brings us closer to our ‘sound’.” Guitarist Clyde Hargrove says the album’s concept is “transformation, whether through love, death, or rebirth.” Heavy themes, but don’t be put off. There’s enough of a quirky pop feel (I thought of She+Him and Vampire Weekend) to keep it moving. Even my older sister, an almost exclusively Top 40 listener, was nodding her head along to the beat when I played Uh Oh! for her. “Catchy,” she commented, “I don’t mind it at all.”
And while I’m usually the first to shout “NEXT!” when a slow song comes on, I even enjoyed ‘Magnolia Parade’, a lovely (slow) piano-based tune about loss. Melancholy, but I didn’t mind.
I particularly liked ‘Uh Oh!’, ‘Purple Poppies’, and ‘Sunday School Dress’. As well as being up-tempo tracks, they show off Hughes’ impressive pipes. The singer is already drawing comparisons to powerhouse female vocalists Dolores O’Riordan, Shirley Manson and Harriet Wheeler. (I’d add a little Gwen Stefani: The Early Years.) Comparisons she loves, with a reservation, “I just don’t want to sound too similar to anyone.”
I’m hoping their part in the coveted lineup of the 2012 Warped Tour, and an invitation to perform again this year, will be the first of many festivals. They’re set to tour the US extensively after ‘Hydrogen Child’s release.
Hydrogen Child will be available April 13.
Review by E. Mathie Groves