UK-based band Athlete‘s latest release, Black Swan is a beautiful, emotion-filled album with soaring melodies and musical accompaniment. With songs that detail the highs and lows of life — everything from embracing youth to failed marriage and death, Athlete impress and leave a lasting impact on the listener.
Released earlier this month, the band took a different approach to recording. After their split with EMI, Athlete recorded and financed the album with money they raised on their own. Due to lack of funds, they were forced to travel to America without drummer Stephen Roberts and played acoustically while on tour with Switchfoot.
“We were playing to 5,000 people a night, without a drummer,” frontman Joel Pott said. “It wasn’t an easy experience, but it was a real positive to see what captivates people when you’re playing to them totally stripped down. You really get a feel for which are the strongest songs.”
Night after night, the crowd’s loudest cheers were reserved for first single, “The Getaway”, a stirring tale of infidelity and communication breakdown, their press release states.
“That reaction was a real boost,” keyboardist Tim Wanstall said. “And it totally focused the idea that the whole record needed to be packed with the kind of songs you can sing along to at the top of your voice.”
When Athlete returned to England, they decided they wouldn’t record the new songs until they’d been properly road-tested.
“A lot of people talk about us being a great live band, but we didn’t think we’d ever quite captured that on record. We wanted it to sound like it was just us, playing together in a room. So before we recorded the songs, we did a tour of really small venues in the UK, to get us to the point where we were playing them well. And it really worked. By the time we got back to the studio, we knew the songs inside out,” Pott said.
Blending electro indie-pop, their fourth LP, Black Swan, offers listeners much diversity. The upbeat “Superhuman Touch” kicks off the album with airy vocals from Pott and electric musical accompaniment. With heavy bass and percussion beats, Pott’s singing style produces a striking blend. “Sparks flying out in every direction/There’s more of this to come/I think it must be heaven/Burnin the sun with just a wave of your hand,” he sings.
Next track and first single, “The Getaway” has a softer and intriguing innocence despite the song’s tale of infidelity. With Pott’s emotional vocals and light percussion and guitar accompaniment, the band switches gears from the fast-paced and energetic “Superhuman Touch” to a beautiful ballad, showcasing their versatility. With the soaring singing style of Coldplay’s Chris Martin combined with their musical prowess, “The Getaway” is one of the record’s stand-out tracks.
“Light the Way” begins with nearly two minutes of instrumental before Pott comes in. Where on previous tracks his voice and sing-along choruses evoked the most attention, it is Athlete’s rich musicality that resonates with the listener.
Title track, “Black Swan Song” is a powerful and moving number about the death of Pott’s grandfather. With a somber and laid-back almost Caribbean feel at the start, Athlete’s heartfelt lyrics transcend in the stripped down track. “I’ve been racing the clock and I’ve run out of steam/I am ready for my final symphony/Oh, my body is weak but my soul is still strong/I am ready to rest in your arms/Though many battles I have won/I lost too many friends I could count on/And I know they’ll be the first to welcome me/When I parachute into eternity,” Pott sings.
The delicate “Rubik’s Cube” fittingly closes the album. It is a song Pott has said sums up everything. “It’s about puzzling through life, working it out as you go along and having to deal with its uncertainties. That’s the magic of life, really.”
It is no question Athlete have had years struggling to survive and find their rightful place within the music industry. As with anything, these hurdles provided material that only strengthened their impeccable release, Black Swan.
“After everything we’ve been through in the last couple of years, it feels like we’re starting again with this record,” Pott said. “We made it without a label, without any pressure and without really having anything to lose. That’s exactly how it felt when we first got together. In a lot of ways, Black Swan, is like our second debut album. That’s a pretty exciting feeling.”
Watch Athlete perform “The Getaway” live at the VEVO Playlist Party at SXSW 2010 below. For more on the band, be sure to visit them on MySpace.
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