Distorted, almost undecipherable, sermons on the advantages of swimming from The Physical and Emotional Benefits of Swimming have been seeping through music blogs for the past couple of months. Dramatic Records’ anticipated release of The Physical and Emotional Benefits of Swimming by Sebastian Palomar, a disillusioned Italian producer who abandoned a promising swimming career for a future in finance in London, has immediately made waves. Even in the expanding sea of left-field electronic soloists, it is clear why - this is one of the most astounding and perplexing concept records you will hear in 2013.
From Palomar’s ‘swimming manifesto’ digital insert
The album chronicles eleven ‘benefits’ of swimming through a dense melange of analogue synthesizers, haunting vocal samples, narcotic beats and cyclical detuned riffs. Palomar has created his own territory of sound - an "Aqua Oddity", immersing you in the shared experience of an alternate, underwater reality. Listeners, the neophytes, are orbited through his rich, thalassic hallucinations. The aquatic soundscape, conjoured by a combination of over-stretched software and a 1973 Roland Space Echo, feels as nostalgic as the tools of its creation. This is not so much a record of songs, but of moods - atmospheres and mental states that are strikingly resonant of nonsensical moments of deeply subconscious mental streaming.
Even Sebastian Palomar is entirely abstract. He is a character born in the imagination of the man I recognised on the kitsch, satirical album artwork. The intention, he says, was for Palomar to evangelise on the joys of swimming, as an escape from the anxieties of modern life. Indeed, each track is parenthesised by some barely intelligible statement on the sensations, and satisfaction achieved in water, and the record is steeped in references from catalogues of self-help literature throughout. However, I suggest that the record is really a frustrated chronicle of a self-help journey, rather than the successful product of one - it still sounds like somebody searching, somebody lapping the pool and simultaneously lapping their own mind. The anonymous creator concedes - Palomar has not yet accomplished the role of the teacher, though he has completed his pupilage . Ultimately, like many self-help gurus, Palomar is an autodidact.
This compelling concept record is a escapist venture from a Palomar’s portrait of a dystopian modern metropolis. The satirical elements - evident in the concept itself, illustrated by the artwork, and sketched by a sound palette nested in pop culture subconsciousness - are poised to not only emulate but to criticise our medicated society, mocking too the self-help industries and egos it spawns. Is Palomar really pitching swimming a cure, or as an escape? Palomar’s revered swimming pools are, after all, slightly grimy features of the modern city - a caging of synthetic water offering a brief, perhaps superficial, oasis. Indeed, as Palomar leads the listener on an aural escape, the tracks diverge from the kitsch, electronic soundtrack for a municipal lido, evoked by tracks like the opening "Benefits Respiratory"; and verge towards oceanic psychedelia by "Benefits Anti-Metropolitan" and "Benefits Transcendental". This culminates in the stunning sound clip, "Benefits Escapological" - a cascading, wrenching composition, which ends too soon. Of all the Benefits, this strikes me as being the most remedial - this is the fleeting opiate beauty that we really search for in our escapist recreations.
Follow Silkie on Twitter: @SilkieCarlo
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