The thing that makes any good band great is believability; if they can sell what’s being said effectively, there’s a higher chance they’ll be remembered in the long run. It’s the primary factor that’s kept New Jersey’s Can’t Swim as a consistent entity on a number of radars, as well as last year’s debut EP Death Deserves A Name, a heady mix of emo and post-hardcore that found its own niche even among the ever-diversifying Pure Noise roster. And with debut full-length Fail You Again that looks set to continue with the aim of a fuller sound thanks to a rejigged lineup, with former drummer Danny Rico moved to additional guitar, and longtime friend Andrea Morgan taking his place behind the kit.
As for whether this has had an effect on the overall sound, it’s debatable to say the least. Fail You Again sounds like a continuation of their EP than any real progression, but even so, it’s a couple of steps up from its predecessor, strident and heavy with its concentrated emotional core intact. The intensity picked up from frontman Chris LoPorto’s stint of drumming in Trash Talk clearly isn’t lost here, rather repurposed from feral brutality to something a lot more internally mangled and violent. Cuts like What’s Your Big Idea and One Shot are driven by adrenalised riffs soaked in passion, while the tentative emo of Quitting sees its hollow guitars and pin-drop atmosphere combine for a gorgeously understated track. Tying this all together is LoPorto himself, ranging from fragile burrs on Show Me to brash howls on $50,000,000 and capturing such a palpable sincerity across the board.
As for the lyrics, they work to a similar effect, and while this sort of internal, emotionally-driven narrative is hardly rare, especially in emo, it’s that believability that makes Can’t Swim’s pleas all the more resonant. Friend‘s plain-spoken refrain of “I’ve lost a friend I had / I’ve lost a friend I used to know” says exactly what it needs to to make its impact, with the majority coming from LoPorto’s clear fervour rather than any overwrought wordplay. Even in the more relationship-centric tracks, there’s greater depth and weight that comes from something more than pining for a lost love – hell, Kid even sees LoPorto trying to convince a friend to get over an ex, saying how she’s better off being on her own than pretending to really love him when the opposite is true. The album’s pessimistic worldview never really lets up, particularly when concerning relationships (both Quitting and One Shot portray partnerships that are doomed to fail, though in the case of the latter it can be clearly seen as abusive), but it never sinks into melodrama, and Can’t Swim manage to keep themselves grounded in reality at all times.
It’s largely due to the instrumentation, and if one fault really had to be pulled out of Fail You Again, it would probably be here. But even that’s not entirely true, as for the most part, it’s driving crunch works excellently, particularly when the pace really picks up like on What’s Your Big Idea. It’s just that this sort of thing has a set mileage, and when it comes to the last couple of tracks, especially the closer All The Moves We Make Are In The Dark, that mileage feels as though it reaches its limit, and the end result becomes a shade more forgettable. But for the most part Can’t Swim work spectacularly well with what they have without compromising their intent, making for some truly affecting, intimate music. It’s becoming something of a cliché to discuss how bands that rely on pure talent and emotion over gimmicks triumph in the long run, but as long as bands like Can’t Swim keep coming around, it’ll never not be true.
For fans of: Boston Manor, Safe To Say, Better Off
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Fail You Again’ by Can’t Swim is released on 10th March on Pure Noise Records.