The cover of Swimé brings to mind images of fantasy and adventure. It looks like a scene from The Hobbit, but without the small, hairy-footed people. As listeners journey through a multitude of sounds, many of which are depicted on the cover, they may get the feeling of being transported. With so much going on in the music, it would have been easy for it to descend into an unlistenable mess. But Makunouchi Bento keeps every noise in its place through clever introductions and timely changes. Repetitiveness is avoided by the range of different instrumentation: piano on “The River Who Drinks All I’ve Had”, brass on “Cruise for a Corpse”, tuned percussion on “Rain Dragon, Hidden Genius”. Some recurring instruments and themes go amiss, but the songs still gel and it does make conceptual sense for the journey not to pass the same place twice. The other sounds (water, beast noises, vocals) should also be praised, as they enhance the intricate shapes of the tracks.
Felix Petrescu and Valentin Toma have fashioned a natural sounding record that subtly invokes a sense of their native Romania. In keeping with the country’s storytelling tradition, “How I Became A Lion Tamer” is a dark fairytale – much more Brothers Grimm than Disney. This provincial touch elevates the record from being good to being excellent. Ingenious changes of mood also add to the appeal. From the sombre plod of “27 Seconds on the Plank” to the curious and playful moments of “Languid Fogfish”, the shifts are executed with care; the listener barely notices the transitions. And all the while, that Romanian darkness bubbles just below the surface.
Despite all the variations found on Swimé, some elements do risk immobility. On a weaker album, these could have had a more damaging effect. The pace rarely changes; the biggest difference is from slow to very slow on “27 Seconds on the Plank”. There is nothing inherently wrong with a slow pace, but some faster tempos would have been welcome. On occasion, the album also lacks dynamic range. While the tracks work together brilliantly in context, the musical current somehow leaves one of the least inspiring compositions, “Cruise for a Corpse”, at the end. An earlier track placement would have disrupted the flow, but perhaps this track should have been left off altogether. However, none of these points negate the fact that Swimé is a lovingly crafted, original and memorable album.