Swimming
That’s OK
Chillwavve Records
St. John’s, NL
RIYL: Taking Back Sunday; Attack in Black; defending small towns

No change in the weather
No change in me
I don’t want to leave
But you can’t live for free
You can’t eat the air
And you can’t drink the sea
No change in the weather
No change in me

(Ron Hynes – “No Change in Me”)

On “No Change in Me,” a song co-written with Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer Murray McLauchlan, St. John’s folk legend Ron Hynes sung of Newfoundlanders moving west to Canada’s larger cities in search of better work and opportunities. Originally recorded for McLauchlan’s 1996 album Gulliver’s Taxi, the song was already an East Coast classic by the time it was included on Hynes’s own Get Back Change (2003), but when it’s invoked at the top of contemporary St. John’s emo trio Swimming’s That’s OK, it’s clear younger Newfoundlanders are still feeling that pull, even if there’s a sense of disconnection from the things that once compelled locals to stay: “I played ‘No Change in Me’ / You say it’s relatable / But not your cup of tea.”

All heart-on-sleeve verses, chiming chords, mathy finger tapped guitar breakdowns and lead swapping vocals, That’s OK signals precious nostalgia for the mid-2000s emo boom, but it avoids the pitfalls of the genre’s gendered myopia and toxicity by anchoring its personal loss and defeat to geopolitical abandonment. 

Swimming’s St. John’s hometown is a mutating landscape defined by an exodus for Montréal and the empty void of a long stalled promise of a Costco and a megadevelopment that’s become a wasteland for small town hopes and dreams. On “Driving Past Dannyland,” the band looks beyond former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams’s creeping 2,400 acre subdivision on the outskirts of St. John’s for a better sense of what makes their home great, while “Blackhorse Brigade” and “Bigger/Better” build a case for continuity and roots, lyrics full of local colour and grand declarations.

The band also sets itself apart from its influences by incorporating baroque touches that frequently cast its angst in a sepia glow, trumpets and string sections lashing the songs’ raw diarism to something more patient and mature. That gives tracks like “Winter Is Hell Here” and “Topsail” a sense of isolated naturalism, requiring the band to slow its charge to a static tremble. It also lends  the album’s track listing a welcome pacing and a version of the quiet/loud dynamism that for a time permeated the genre.

You can’t live in the past, but sometimes that doesn’t mean you have to let go of what feels real.

– Tom Beedham