Headswim – Flood (re-issue, 2CD set)

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Originally formed in 1989 under the name Blinder (during which they achieved a modicum of success) things really started moving for this Essex quartet when they changed their name to Headswim. Two well-received independent EPs scored them a deal with Sony subsidiary Epic, who released their debut album Flood in 1994. Perfectly capturing the cultural zeitgeist, Flood was a bold and brash statement recorded against a backdrop of personal adversity, and this loving re-issue, bolstered by a disc rammed with radio sessions and rare cuts, demands some long overdue re-evaluation and re-appraisal.

Disc One: Flood

The haunting guitar line that introduces opening track ‘Gone To Pot’ is haunting an ethereal, as if pulled from the soundtrack of a horror flick, but this otherworldliness is curtly curtailed by a crushing riff, and it’s one that finds the guitar and drums locking in to deliver a juggernaut punch. This manipulation of musical dynamics, the juxtaposition of loud and quiet sections, will echo throughout Flood, but they’re used with exceptional dynamism here. Like a wrecking ball swinging uncontrollably, the inherent groove that permeates ‘Gone To Pot’ creates a sound that’s simultaneously hard, yet lithe, and it veers wildly between the two extremes. Lyrically too, ‘Gone To Pot’ inserts a neat turn of phrase and when guitarist/vocalist Daniel Glendining sings “climb into the water” the accompanying riff attaches itself like an anchor to a drowning man, and it drags the listener down to delirious depths.

Headswim wore their grunge influences proudly on their sleeves, and they tended to acknowledge the heavier, jam-based bands; Mudhoney and TAD are very much in evidence here, but there’s also a ‘70s rock influence, most notably in Tom Glendining’s drums which have that tight-but-loose swing as perfected by Bill Ward. However, it’s Nick Watts’ keyboards that elevated Headswim above their peers, and he adds a swirling psychedelia to many of these tracks which made Flood unique in the genre, and it still sounds fresh almost 30 years later. Sometimes it’s best not to over-analyse music, and there’s no other option but to sit back and admire the earworm qualities of ‘Try Disappointed’.

On an album that’s full of light and shade, there’s plenty hiding in the album’s shadows, and Flood is the type of record that’ll reward repeat listens as subtle nuances hidden deep in the mix bubble to the surface on successive spins. This dichotomy is perfectly illustrated by the following two tracks with ‘Years On Me’ allowing the sunlight to flood in (pun intended) and ‘Apple Of My Eye’ creating an oppressive, claustrophobic air with guitar lines that tie the listener up in a Gordian knot. ‘Beneath A Black Moon’ makes for an atmospheric closer (which is how all good albums should end) but don’t rush to turn off your CD player because Flood has a nice surprise in store.

Disc Two: Bonus Tracks

Four tracks recorded for a BBC Radio 1 Rock Show session open the second disc, and as with most bands who were captured at the Beeb, they sound top-notch, and have the vibe of good quality demos. Each song sounds markedly different to that which appeared on Flood, as ‘Stink Horn’ brings Clovis Taylor’s bass to the fore along with Daniel’s fuzzed up guitar, while ‘Try Disappointed’ brings out the full emotion in Daniel’s vocals. The other bonus cuts show what a rich seam the band were mining, yet their aesthetic doesn’t quite match the tracks found on Flood (which is probably why they were left off the album). ‘The Fear’ sounds like a collaboration with the Orb (I wish) while ‘Apprenticed To Pain’ finds the guys back on more familiar ground, only amping the psychedelic influences up a couple of notches. ‘Proud’ makes for a strong closer and gives a tantalising glimpse of what could have been, had the band been dealt a different hand.

Looking back at every era of music, there’s always one band who are residing in the “should-have-been-massive” file, and Headswim are a prime example. Perfectly in sync with the times, but also sounding timeless, Headswim managed to fly under the radar, but hopefully this loving re-issue should rectify that anomaly.

  • Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
  • Flood is released via Trapped Animal on 7th October 2022 and is available here.

Track List:

Disc One: Flood

  1. Gone To Pot
  2. Soup
  3. Try Disappointed
  4. Crawl
  5. Dead
  6. Years On Me
  7. Apple Of My Eye
  8. Down
  9. Stink Horn
  10. Safe Harvest
  11. Beneath A Black Moon

Disc Two: Bonus Tracks

  1. Introduction
  2. Gone To Pot *
  3. Stink Horn *
  4. Try Disappointed *
  5. Beneath Of A Black Moon *
  6. The Fear
  7. Apprenticed To Pain
  8. Morning Song
  9. Rotting Tooth
  10. Proud

* BBC Radio 1 Rock Show