On the whim of a fleeting synthesized harmony, Katie Schottland’s honeysweet vocal enters the frame as we descend upon “Good Time, Man,” the opening track in her solo project Swimming Bell’s new album Wild Sight. Her voice is as soft as silk, but the melody acting as its foundation is thick and muscly, drawing every drop of sonic luster out of the woodwork and bringing it to the surface of the master mix. “Good Time, Man” isn’t the foreboding gothic folk song that “1988” is, but the tracks gel together surprisingly well, especially when we get into the chorus of the latter song and find a romanticism in the lyrics that will segue us into “For Brinsley” seamlessly. Wild Sight might not be a traditional concept album, but the material it contains definitely spins us an extended yarn that speaks volumes about the amazingly talented woman behind its design.
“We’d Find” starts off in a fog and only finds some sense of structure under the guidance of Schottland’s singing, but in “Cold Clear Moon,” Wild Sight gets the straightforward folk ballad that it needs to be considered an anthological offering from Swimming Bell. Composed by Tomo Nakayama, “Cold Clear Moon” displays all of the texture in Schottland’s voice better than any of the other tracks do, and takes on a slightly different meaning when sung in her signature style of conservative crooning. It’s a heartfelt performance, but it isn’t the only hit to behold in this tracklist; if anything, it’s actually one of the simpler songs here.
In “Wolf,” the entrancing hook that drove “Cold Clear Moon” home is replaced by a psychedelically-faceted, multidimensional melodicism that blankets the playful acoustic guitar strings in the background in a bittersweet somberness that instantly gave me chills the first time I heard the song. Its handclapped outro sends us into “Got Things” ready to raise the tempo and see what Schottland can do when she really cuts loose behind the microphone, but I don’t think that it’s until “Left Hand Path” that she lets her hair completely down and plays with a confidence that, from where I sit, puts her in the rarefied air of the legends that influenced her career from its very inception.
“Love Liked You” flanks its minimalist construction with a crushing lap steel guitar that accentuates the weightiness of Schottland’s vocal, and in the concluding track “Quietly Calling,” we’re treated to a climax that is steeped in postmodernity but focused in pace and bonded to the larger aesthetical narrative of the record as a whole. Whether you’re familiar with the music of Swimming Bell or not, I think that you’re likely to find Wild Sight to be essential listening this April if you enjoy sophisticated folk harmonies and all of the thought-provoking emotions that they can inspire. Those of us who have been following her since day one will immediately recognize this for the musical treasure chest that it is, and those who are discovering her sound for the first time will find a new singer/songwriter worth celebrating as among the best in the genre today.