My CD purchases for August of '92 netted me His Name is Alive's re-issued "Livonia", Pale Saints' "In Ribbons", and Swallow's only full-length release. For the next several weeks they seemd to be the only discs I listened to, "Blow" no less than the others.
For some reason, this band gets pegged as a lightweight version of the Cocteau Twins. After hundreds of listens the only firm points for comparison that could be made -at a stretch- are that both groups are (or were) signed to 4AD, both featured a guitar-driven sound anchored in textural and atmospheric exploration, and both contained female vocalists who were comfortable at the higher end of the register. All of this is a bit like saying humans and chimpanzees are just alike because we share 99% of the same DNA.
There are obvious qualitative differences here. Robin Guthrie's such heavily-processed guitar effects lent an extremely distinctive sound to the musical palette of the Cocteau Twins; and coupled with the seven-octave range and penchant for glossolalic lyrics possessed by Liz Frazer put an instantly recognizable stamp on their material. Mike Mason and Louise Trehy approach the creation of their own ethereal soundscapes from a different direction. Mason's guitar work, while employing its own set of effects, remains more organic. Sure, there's some reverb, but it's never taken to such extensive lengths that it's merely mimicking Guthrie's trademark sound. The tones emeriging from Mason's guitar, while never power chords, are much heavier and have real depth and expansive quality; and while atmospheric they don't sound as if they were processed through every effects pedal he owned (and this is not meant to be a slur against Guthrie, one of my favorite guitar players). Louise Trehy's voice is not as expressive as Liz Frazer's, but remaining in the upper registers is beguiling nevertheless, and invests each song with quiescent sussurations of real emotion. Swallow also opt for a far more liberal employment of keyboards to augment their sound, something heard on almost every track, and in many different variations.
"Lovesleep", "Peek-a-Boo", "Lacuna", "Oceans and Blue Skies" (familiar perhaps to those who watched MTV's "120 Minutes Into the Future" or "Alternative Nation") , "Follow Me Down" , "Halo", and "Cherry Stars Collide" are the standout tracks. A different version of "Lovesleep", containing intermittent vocals by Trehy, exists, and I wish that it had been chosen rather than the all- instrumental track of the same name that opens the CD, but both build to a powerful crescendo that sets the band's own course, rather than a powerful echo of the Cocteau Twins for the rest of the CD.