Swayzak, the British production duo of James Taylor and David “Brun” Brown, has been puttering around the European techno scene since dropping its impressive down-tempo tech-house debut record, Snowboarding in Argentina, in 1998. Between then and now, electronic music has seen more than its share of passing fads, and Swayzak certainly has embraced the changing musical landscape over the course of its recording career. From electroclash to minimal techno to microhouse to deep house, Taylor and Brown took their turn evolving bits of their sound while still remaining deeply rooted in the dub/tech-house foundation from their conception. They have always remained true to what seems to be their central goal: creation and expression of mood. On their first album since 2004, Some Other Country finds Swayzak existing in a happy medium of styles and ultimately laying the groundwork for a cohesive and rewarding statement.
Some Other Country displays Swayzak’s usual fondness for soulful vocalists. Frequent Swayzak contributor Richard Davis is back in the fold, and his contribution on “No Sad Goodbyes” carries the track from a subdued techno groove to a sentimental deep-house ballad. Davis’s vocals coupled with the sparse instrumentation conclude in a moment of tranquil longing and loss. DJ Cassy, resident deejay of Berlin’s Berghain nightclub, lends vocals to “Quiet Life” and “Smile and Receive.” With an androgynous voice that is both alluring and inquisitive, Swayzak uses Cassy’s appeal to create the album’s most esoteric and fruitful bits. But the masterful moments are reached when Taylor and Brown use the atmosphere created by the vocalists to define and then elaborate upon the instrumentals. The dynamic force emitted from the aforementioned “Quiet Life” and “Smile and Receive” and “No Sad Goodbyes,” for example, sets the stage for an album’s worth of discovery.
“Claktronic” is the summation of Some Other Country. Appearing after “Smile and Receive,” “Claktronic” builds from cacophonous bleeps and bips into a Villalobos-esque burner filled with lush progressions, hyperactive multitracked xylophone, Latin flutes and ambient vocal moaning. It’s all aspects of Some Other Country’s toils, cleanly expressed in a singular, lifting track.
Being intelligent and well-versed musicians, Taylor and Brown seem to know that creation and expression of mood is greatly realized through vocals and lyrics. Building upon a foundation of vocal collaborations with likeminded individuals, they acutely use Some Other Country to explore the sympathetically human emotions as well as the ambiguous feelings. Scrutinizing the unexplored recesses of the mind is a difficult journey, but Swayzak makes it enjoyable and worthwhile — and that’s no simple feat.