"Who mentioned Stoneybridge?" asks Andrew Eaton, Swimmer One's snappily waistcoated singer, with a laugh after opening this short but persuasive appearance with "Largs Hum", a pumping, soaring electro anthem about a mysterious low-frequency noise that has plagued the inhabitants of a small Strathclyde town for 20 years.
The song begins with the Edinburgh poet Rodney Relax enumerating the names of various rain-lashed Scottish coastal towns Rothsay, Dunoon, Campbelltown, but not, tellingly, Stoneybridge, the town that became a byword for Caledonian parochialism in the early 1990s thanks to the Channel 4 sketch-show series Absolutely.
Eaton and Hamish Brown make their angsty but uplifting electronic pop in a small attic by the sea just north of the Scottish capital, and their songs often evoke the wind-blown expanses of the Scottish countryside and coastline.
But there's little narrow-minded or hidebound about their exhilarating debut, The Regional Variations, one of the finest of this year's freshman efforts. It is, indeed, an "attempt", they say, "to describe the fascinating differences between people".
The album draws on some of the best elements of Scottish pop over the past 20 years (the Blue Nile, The Associates, Belle and Sebastian) and some of the best elements of English pop over the past 20 years (Pulp, The Pet Shop Boys, Kitchens of Distinction) to create something stirringly fresh and smart.
The endearingly camp Eaton, with his tousled, Bryan Ferry looks and jokes about his unlikely penchant for Strongbow, makes for an engaging frontman. Brown, meanwhile, is a synth-pop boffin as imagined by Charles Schulz. The actress Laura Cameron Lewis, who cuts a commanding dash in Debbie Harry monochrome stripes and is a striking keyboard player, singer and tambourine shaker.
"The National Theatre" and "The Balance Company" both sound like killer hit singles beefier, more erudite takes on the kind of now deeply unfashionable dance-pop essayed by Jon Marsh's somewhat unfairly derided Balearic outfit The Beloved. "The National Theatre" "a love song for shy people" chews over the lack of privacy in modern relationships, while "The Balance Company", based in part on Wings of Desire, steps inside the mind of a disaffected guardian angel.
The set-closer, "We Just Make Music for Ourselves", smacks of Stoneybridge insularity, but as Eaton steps into the crowd to sing, the warmth and inclusiveness of their music becomes crystal clear. It'd be a shame if this clever band remain a purely provincial concern.Reuse content