In music critic circles, the topic du jour is the dissolution of genre and its impact on creators, appreciators, and evaluators of art. While fancy nouns like“poptimism,” “rockist,” and “avant garde” are frequently employed, it’s a familiar debate that places popular culture (fans of contemporary sounds) against people who know better than you (the professional critic class). At the heart of this discussion is the concern that genre distinctions might not matter any longer: since everyone has access to all sorts of music from nearly every time in history, the lines between styles will collapse and artistic anarchy will break loose.
It’s ridiculous. On several levels.
Why is that, you might ask? Well, the forcible classification preferred by classicists would prevent a classy band like Elephant from making the delicious music you hear on Sky Swimming. Instead of weaving together a variety of influences with supple grace, this British duo would have seen its artistic endeavors hamstrung. Thankfully, I fall into the camp that would rather see the walls between genres destroyed, so I greatly appreciate how Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck effortlessly blend together ‘60s girl-group R&B, ’70s movie soundtracks (a la Mancini), ‘80s New Wave, ‘90s pop, and contemporary electro sensibilities.
The record shimmers and sparkles with vintage pop textures. The sultry, smoky alto of Rivas evokes memories of Debbie Harry, Alison Goldfrapp, and Lana Del Ray. Her smoky vocals are capably complemented by Pinchbeck’s elegant arrangements which call to mind Beach House, Class Actress, and Lady Lazarus (or a chilled out version of Metric). Crisp drums are pared with prominent, rich bass tones, while warm layers of keys and synth pads fill in the gaps between surf rock guitar fills.
This is glossy, dreamy album that manages to eschew appearing overtly ethereal by refusing to rely upon hazy reverb and similar production techniques. Tracks like “Allured,” “Ants,” “Shipwrecked,” “TV Dinner,” and “Shapeshifter” embrace a range of influences and genres with equal adoration and to fantastic results. Sky Swimmer serves as an excellent example of a band weaving a cohesive whole out of related (but by no means complementary) parts. If you like dance-ready tunes and mid-tempo ballads crafted with one foot in electronic music and the other in pop music, you should enjoy the sounds of Elephant.
Just don’t tell cranky jazz and rock critics about your decision. Or maybe you should. Stodgy traditionalists need to understand that they don’t have to fear the future.