Album: Sinai Vessel – Ground Aswim review

by Chris Hatch

Sinai Vessel’s second album finds songwriter, Caleb Cordes, unflinchingly reflecting on the things that make him and others tick.

When Death Cab For Cutie released The Photo Album in 2001, it was described by lead singer, Ben Gibbard, as a series of snapshots that documented events from around the time he was writing the songs, and in many ways Ground Aswim is a similar prospect. Caleb Cordes plucks out moments from his life, and tenderly and elegantly presents them over the kind of indie rock which sounds simple, but is deceptively complex. From the softly bruising album-opener, Where Did You Go?, to the thundering All Days Just End, the North Carolinian sings in a way that conveys so much emotion, but without ever feeling forced or put-on – his tone straightforward yet affecting.

And that element of being ‘straightforward yet affecting’ also pulls through in the work of producer, Tommy Read. His touch is a light one (the sudden switch to guitar and vocals at the end of Fragile, for example, is a simple but inspired choice), and most of the songs are allowed to play out with little interference. There’s a subtle ambient hum that gently murmurs underneath the tracks on Ground Aswim, but, other than that, there is very little production trickery, and instead it’s the perfectly measured rise and fall of the band’s instrumentation that creates the album’s dynamics.

At the album’s core, Cordes lays bare all elements of his personality, both negative and positive. On the withering Shameplant, he paints a picture of himself that is constantly looking over the horizon – even in the face of the person he loves, he’s looking for a way out. It’s a brutally honest lyric that floods Cordes in harsh light – ‘I love you. Except for the part of me that does not.’ But as the song progresses, there’s doubt cast over whether or not his self-hatred is actually a form of self-doubt, reckoning that ‘It’s one thing to act on, and another to just believe.’

Ground Aswim is the kind of record which is hard to pin down – not because it’s unique, or ground-breaking, or genre-defying, but because it’s just classically very, very good. In the same way that Bright Eyes, Empty Country, and Phoebe Bridgers have recently released records which are stuffed with brilliant songwriting, Sinai Vessel have conjured up a record that is at the apex of alternative music, teasing together elements of complex rock, confessional bedroom emo, and subtly arresting indie.

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