tue 27/02/2024

Album: Bas Jan - Back to the Swamp | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Bas Jan - Back to the Swamp

Album: Bas Jan - Back to the Swamp

Bankers, road signs and a witch inspire arty and idiosyncratic band’s fourth album

Bas Jan's 'Back to the Swamp': buoyant

Margaret Calvert's creations are never far. She set the rules for the design of Britain’s road signs, as well as drafting typography and graphics for national, regional and local rail signage. Back to the Swamp’s fifth track “Margaret Calvert Drives Out” features the lyrics “maximum information conveyed by minimum means, triangles for warning, circles for limits, blue for instructions, green for directions.”

“Margaret Calvert Drives Out” gets into the specifics of this important figure’s guiding principles and inspirations within the framing of a pulsing music hinting at Arthur Russell and Another Green World/Before and After Science Eno, while also manifesting an organic, folky sensibility. The singer is Serafina Steer, whose deadpan voice is of a piece with that of Young Marble Giants’ Alison Statton.

Bas Jan’s fourth album also includes songs reflecting on the experience of being at a Hong Kong karaoke bar full of financial traders and a contemplation of the burning at the stake in the 14th century of the supposed witch Petronilla de Meath. Throughout, the subject matter is tackled obliquely.

Musically, these and the Back to the Swamp’s six other tracks share a late Seventies, early Eighties outlook fusing a Rough Trade-style idiosyncrasy (viz: LiLiPUT, The Raincoats, Young Marble Giants) with a dance-edged though fragmented electoprop. “Singing Bar” most straightforwardly encapsulates this by taking the Pet Shops Boys into DIY indie territory.

Bas Jan – Rachel Horwood, Emma Smith, Serafina Steer and Charlie Stock – take their name form Bas Jan Ader, the Dutch multi-disciplinary artist who was lost at sea in 1975. Fittingly Steer, the band’s driver and Trinity College of Music graduate, is also hard to pin down. A multi-instrumentalist, she first surfaced as a harpist and has worked with Bat For Lashes, Jarvis Cocker, John Foxx & Maths and Tunng. Here, as well as singing, she plays keyboards. It’s gratifying then that, despite the potentially daunting scope of what’s brought to the table, Back to the Swamp’s arty pop is as charming as it is buoyant.

@MrKieronTyler

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