Can’t Swim’s ‘Fail You Again’ whips energy dynamic on pop rock tightrope

Killer tempo, triumphant choruses—and a few flaws


Courtesy of Pure Noise Records

The Keansburg, New Jersey group Can’t Swim released their first full-length album “Fail You Again” on March 10. Unlike the encapsulating rhythms of their 2016 EP “Death Deserves A Name,” “Fail You Again” is not notable for the slew of powerhouse moments within a few choice songs from the list.

Right off the bat, the listener gets a crunchy intro riff that sits low and darts like an MIDI-fueled snake about to coil. “What’s Your Big Idea?” gives you a taste of the best in this album straight from the get-go. There’s well-balanced vocal grit, pulse-pounding guitar with substance and a dynamic change that slingshots into a stellar chorus ready to burst with energy. The ending is punchy, the patterns of the song efficiently capture the feeling and move at a pace that keeps the listener interested. Heck, they even throw us a couple of chugs to know they mean business. I ate it up.

The brazen energy we see here is what I dug the first time I heard “Your Clothes,” my highlight from the previous EP. If it’s the sound of Can’t Swim at their truest, then they’re going to go far in rock at the same tempo as the blood-boiling hits they’ve already created.

The thing this album is best at is a formula that turns bridges on their side and throttles energy to blistering proportions. In highlight songs like “What’s Your Big Idea” and “Molly’s Desk,” amassed energy completely disappears under a powerful and unique one-line phrase. With milliseconds of notice, the band flips the energy on its side and throws themselves into a mind-blowing chorus. When there’s a strong riff in the beginning, the formula is a recipe for success. What ends up lowering the effect of the energy dynamic for me is when that one-liner gets repeated—whether it’s a lyrical phrase, a drum lick or a guitar riff, there are several instances of unique moments losing their edge in repetition.

Sometimes the whips are a little too hard and sometimes the choruses don’t have the energy to back the throttle. But when it works, it works. When this album is moving with memorable riffs, balanced transitions and vocals that aren’t exposed, they do great work.

Influences of Sum 41, Imagine Dragons, Young the Giant and Arcade Fire inject a lot of dreamy pop aesthetic into many of the songs. In songs like “We Won’t Sleep,” “$50,000,000” and “Show Me,” many of the transitions in the middle come off as awkward segues from Indie stereotypes. However, Can’t Swim manages to incorporate subtle changes into their patterns to keep things as fresh as possible. The pretty songs they play are indeed pretty, and the overall sound is exceedingly palatable. One of the largest problems about a palatable rock band with potential is the narrative.

“Fail You Again” is a perpetrator of a bad narrative. Incorporating destruction, a recurring theme of drowning and a one-way magnifying glass towards the self, “Fail You Again” creates a typical “me-first” narrative focusing on love and women that I just don’t want to see in the genre anymore.

The beginning of “Show Me” is exceedingly pretty and it sounds like it came out of a Kingdom Hearts menu soundtrack. But after, the narrative becomes focused on forgetting past transgressions of the male voice and offers the task of returning to him as a challenge. “Show me what you can do” is repeated often and exceedingly softly, which makes me really skeeved out. I don’t trust it. It’s an ugly song wrapped up in pretty instrumentals.

But as soon as the song ends, “Molly’s Desk” begins. I wish this was the song that everything ended on because it builds energy so well, arguably even better than the intro. It’s got one of the best one-line tempo whacks in the album and it’s charged with a genuine emotional source that isn’t the internalized male narrative.

Listening to “All The Moves We Make Are In The Dark” underwhelms me comparatively to this. But the tasty reverb lines, bell chord sounds, tight endings, generous breakdowns and quality riffs do a lot to restore the instrumentation of “Fail You Again” in my good graces.

Overall, I’d give “Fail You Again” a seven out of 10. My favorite songs off of the album are “What’s Your Big Idea?,” “Molly’s Desk” and “One Shot.”

Group vocals, repetitive instrumentation and imbalanced vocal parts are particular culprits.

Email Fitzgerald at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @DrMessBDSD.

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