My thoughts on “Empathies”, the first album from Sway Emotions Slightly.
Release Date: June 17th 2020
1. Emotional Synchronization
2. Mōshin-teki seimei wa isonsei
3. STAY GOLD
4. MAYDAY MAYDAY
6. See-saw game
7. It’s not over yet!
9. Mezasubeki sonohi ni
If you’ve been following the site for any reasonable amount of time then hopefully I’ve been able to convey just how much I enjoy discovering and sharing new groups and their music with you all. My enthusiasm for it probably ties into my personality defect of never being satisfied with anything I do, but we’ll leave that for another day. Today I get to do my second most favorite thing after discovering a new group; following them on their journey.
I first featured up and coming 3-piece Sway Emotions Slightly on the site a few months ago when they released their debut EP “Emotional Synchronization” (review here). I was drawn to the group by the description of their music being “Emo, Mellow, Shoegazer” because I’m quite partial to those genres generally and it’s also not something you hear from Idol groups all too often. Who says you need a crazy gimmick to capture peoples’ attention.
Seeing as I was so impressed with the group’s debut offering, I was rather impatiently waiting for a follow-up…or if one was ever going to materialize given the insanity of 2020. Well I’m happy to report that a follow-up has appeared, in the from of a full blown album no less! “Empathies” appears to collect the group’s debut EP and adds 5 new tracks to it, so presuming they’re all great too then this would present a fantastic jumping off point for potential new fans. I’m getting ahead of myself here though, I should probably listen to this thing and write down some thoughts first.
Just like on their debut release, the album opens with “Emotional Synchronization” which is basically just a short intro track. These things seem to really be gaining popularity this year so not surprising to see it here too. You get a pretty fuzzy, Shoegaze style composition with a bit of piano sprinkled in for some added melody and to brighten things up a little bit too. It’s not really something that’s going to give you too much of an idea of what the group’s music sounds like but as an opener it does the job that is being asked of it. Not a whole lot else to say about this one so let’s get into the main course.
“Mōshin-teki seimei wa isonsei” is our first proper song from the album and it’s a brand new one too which I’m definitely not unhappy about. There’s a mild amount of distortion on the opening instrumental, but it’s there with the purpose of making the pretty cool and very melodic sounding lead guitar riffs pop. Mission accomplished there then. Perhaps surprisingly, none of this lets up when the vocals are introduced and it didn’t need to because they’re more than holding their own. In fact, they’re almost dominating the instrumental at times with how they’re mixed pairing with the confidence and power behind their delivery. It’s a nice, rather emotional sounding performance so the group definitely does what it says on the tin. I also liked how they split the guitar into both channels here too, it made for a pretty cool listening experience and “filled the room” if you like. I’m a bit less of a fan of the instrumental in the chorus though and while I do appreciate the added piano, I don’t like how bright and blown out it sounds generally. The vocal work is still awesome though and hits really hard too which is something a lot of groups tend to struggle with, but not this one. I also really like the instrumental breaks they use to transition out of the choruses, with some really nice guitar work featured in those parts. For what might be the first introduction to SES for many, I think this makes a good first impression.
Next up is another new song in “STAY GOLD”, which is a nice little reference or perhaps it just sounded cool. It’s the title of a Japanese song so either of those things could be true folks! I wasn’t really sure about those “Woahs” at the start there but once the instrumental kicks in it smooths things out rather nicely. Some more catchy guitar riffs featured here too so if you’re into that then this is bringing it early and keeps it up for much of the duration. Things get a bit moody once we hit the first verse, which allows the girls to show off a bit more of their vocal range and tone, to good effect might I add. Perhaps this slower, more dramatic style isn’t what the song was promising what with how it started off but it’s hard to knock the performance from either a technical or enjoyability standpoint. That bright, anthemic style makes its glorious return in the choruses anyway so it’s all good. A very synth heavy, mildly distorted instrumental that lets the vocals soar and impress with their power, control and the emotion behind the lines. The song plays off of these contrasting verse and chorus styles to great effect and the end result is a pretty powerful song that I think just about nails that epic anthem sort of thing they were going for. SES are really bringing it early on this release.
Our first proper callback to SES’s debut EP comes four tracks into this album with “MAYDAY MAYDAY” making an appearance. You can read my initial impressions of the track here if you’d like. It doesn’t waste any time getting going, with a really cool and funky lead guitar providing a nice solo to start things off on. It’s supplemented by some pretty sparkly synthesizers, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your personal preferences but I liked it quite a bit personally and it’s all tied together with a catchy, uptempo drumbeat. I think they might have tweaked the vocals ever so slightly for the album but the verses are still flowing nicely with the instrumental and I’m definitely more onboard with the slight echo effect now than I was initially. I’m still not a huge fan of how bright and high pitched the chorus goes but its lyrical hooks have definitely been putting in work on me over the past few months. That kinda out of place Psychedelic…crazy…break…thing in the middle of the track still catches me off guard even now though. This song definitely sits in that sort of Ballad-y territory but there’s so many interesting guitar riffs, drumbeats and vocal hooks that you honestly don’t even notice all that much. It could be a big song for this group if they can start gaining some traction.
Then it’s right back into the new material for our next track “Aquarium” which I kinda figured might have some kind of underwater type atmosphere to it given the title but I was very wrong. Instead the Shoegaze component of the SES sound makes an appearance here with some delightfully fuzzed out guitars creating the canvas upon which a more melodic lead guitar can draw a somewhat ethereal tone. They clear the instrumental out a decent amount by the time we hit the first verse though, which is fair enough because the dreamy tone in which the vocals are being sung probably would have struggled if things were still going at full tilt. There’s still enough left though and it pairs rather beautifully with the light and melodic vocals it is accompanying, just a really great atmosphere being crafted here. The way the song just explodes into life when the choruses hit is such a great aural experience too, with the fuzz ramping back up and the vocals soaring higher and higher trying to keep themselves above the rising tide. It just sounds so epic and if this group was a bit more well known then everyone would probably be singing this song’s praises. I guess we did also kinda get the underwater vibe from about halfway through as well, with a sort of bubbling synthesizer element making an appearance so that was pretty cool too. Then the last minute and a half of the track is probably one of the best sequences I’ve heard in any song for quite some time, so incredibly high and well deserved praise all around for this one folks. Go listen to it right now.
We’re dipping back into the “Emotional Synchronization” EP once again for following track “See-saw game”, which you can again read my initial thoughts on here if that’s of interest to you. A very energetic opening synthesizer instrumental kicks things off here, quite unlike anything we’ve really heard on this album to this point now that I think about it. A bit of a Eurobeat sort of feel to things, which seems to be gaining a bit more popularity again of late. Things then switch to a Jazzy Rock instrumental by the time the first verses are being delivered, which is a bit of a dramatic tonal shift honestly but I’m rather partial to this style of music so you’re not going to hear me complain too much here. The vocals are along that sort of Rock style and much like most of the rest of this album they’re executed very well and definitely hold their own against what is quite the attention grabbing backdrop. They do struggle a bit more in that regard when it comes to the chorus but I feel like I was probably a bit harsh in my initial review because while they are getting a bit crowded out I think the hooks and melodies do a good enough job of cutting through all of that. It’s actually a pretty memorable chorus upon further review, so don’t ever take what I say as gospel I guess! Great instrumentation and a high quality vocal performance throughout, I really hope that you’re listening along at this point because I don’t know how much harder I can sell you guys on these tracks.
Completing the set of tracks to originally feature on SES’s debut EP is the album’s seventh track “It’s not over yet!”. Once again, initial thoughts are available here for your consideration. Crunchy Rock riffs are paired with a catchy beat to create an instrumental that has a pretty nice groove to it as things start warming up. We’re treated to some more “Woahs” as our first introduction to the vocals on this outing and I suppose it does seem a little bit repetitive when placed in this new context. The thumping drumbeat and noodley guitar riffs are doing a pretty good job of distracting you from this once the song properly gets up and running though. The spoken word style of the vocals isn’t what you’d usually expect to hear in a song like this but they do work rather well, though I’m still not overly keen on the grainy filter that they’ve got going on. The chorus is another excellent example of the group’s vocal talents however, with some really strong melodies making the lyrical hooks really stand out with a little bit of help from a mixing boost as well. I also liked how as the song progressed they began to blend both the verse and chorus styles until they fused together to create a nice balance that made for a much more interesting listening experience than it would have had they been kept separate I feel. Another fun one that deserves more play than it’s probably going to get unfortunately.
I’m not really sure where the idea for penultimate track “Maybe…” came from, and I’m also not sure where a bright, melodic Punk number fits into the description of SES’s sound but I’m glad they’ve included it here! Granted they’re not exactly trying to reinvent the wheel or anything, opting for an instrumental comprised of some rather straightforward guitar riffs and a quick tempo, fairly intense drumbeat. You don’t really need to do much more than that when it comes to this genre however and the result is catchy to the ear like it should be, even if it is rather derivative. The vocals are very melodic throughout the track, brimming with energy when appropriate like in the choruses but also also able to be calmer and more introspective for many of the verses. The lyrics themselves are very catchy on the whole with some really nice structuring in regards to how verses flow into each other and transition into and out of the choruses. It’s a very well thought out song and the end result is a very pleasing listen, though one would quite rightly be able to argue that it should be given the very well defined template that has quite clearly been used. Hopefully that doesn’t spoil things too much for you guys though, it certainly didn’t for me at least.
To close out what has been a very entertaining show, we have “Mezasubeki sonohi ni”. The song starts out with an instrumental that is very confusing to the ear sonically. There’s a very obvious, rough and tumble Rock composition going on but then there’s also this kind of symphonic, piano, percussion-y type of thing also happening at the same time. It’s quite a bit to unpack but things get smoothed out rather neatly by the time the first verses come in and the song shifts into the Ballad that I and all of you should have been expecting at this point. Well, kinda anyway because to their credit SES don’t just go for the paint by numbers approach here. A nice, somewhat dramatic tone to the vocals from the opening verses with a fairly mellow instrumental that occasionally sees itself become a bit more emotionally charged when the track calls for it. The chorus then sees things return to that rather chaotic opening instrumental style, along with some rather powerful vocal melodies that are trying their best to cut through everything else that’s going on. From there we go off the beaten path in a very fuzzy, Shoegaze sort of direction with some rather intense and scattered Spoken Word making up much of the middle of the track. They eventually pull it back to something a bit brighter and more melodic for the bridge then we’re back into the initial chorus style to round things out. This one is a bit of a trip I must say, and a very interesting one at that.
“Empathies” is easily one of the better albums that I’ve heard come out of the Idol scene thus far in 2020. Granted we perhaps haven’t had quite as strong competition due to outside forces but hey, you play the field that’s put in front of you. In that regard Sway Emotions Slightly have done a fantastic job of both swaying emotions (a bit more than slightly in my opinion) and putting together an album that’s going to be a highlight of the year when all is said and done.
Well, it’s all well and good me saying that but the pessimist in me says not many people are actually going to hear this release and that’s a shame. With great songs like “Aquarium”, “It’s not over yet!” and…well pretty much this whole album really I feel like they have a really good shot at catching on if people are willing to give them a chance. Hopefully some of you guys reading this will, but in the meantime I’m going to get back to enjoying this release and hoping for more in the not too distant future.