Following the underground acclaim of Swahili’s self-titled debut comes their sophomore LP, AMOVREVX (pronounced am-or-euh). Named for the sixth arcanum of the Tarot de Marseilles, AMOVREVX, (“The Lover”), explores the themes of duality, partnership and the interplay of opposing forces in the constant renewal of creation. “I think of this album as a multidimensional sling-shot,” says vocalist Van Pham. “It begins on a crossroads – then travels around this mysterious interior world, visiting many different sonic landscapes along the way.”
70’s funk, punk, dub reggae, and the synth bliss of Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder are all touched upon as Pham develops this thread between the cosmic and the personal, asking what it means to love and be loved, how this extends to our perception of and active participation in the world and finally how our microscopic movements on earth relate to the astronomical machinations of existence.
The lyrical content and maximalist production are both an evolution from and a response to the disorienting, lo-fi séance of the band’s self-titled album. The new album sonically explores the new world introduced in the first, providing narrative on the consequences of knowing and the acceptance of love in various forms.
The progression between the two records reflects the band’s migration from Reno, NV to Portland, OR in 2010. With the move came drastic personal transformations resulting in a shift from the hermetic and dissonant minimalism of their early work to a more extroverted sound that flirted with traditional song craft and musicianship without sacrificing the subversive values of their post-punk and kosmiche past. This period also saw the main vocal duties change over from Xua to Pham, a decision which proved to be highly inspirational as her melodies quickly became the guiding force behind Swahili’s music and the band’s collective energy congealed around her shamanic presence and vulnerable charisma onstage. In time guitarist Troy Micheau’s no-wave loops were tamed in favor of more subtle rhythmic patterns and John Griffin’s bass lines became the low end counterpoint to Pham’s voice. Drummer Ryan Schofield adopted a sampler which proved to be a key element in allowing for the band to morph between genres with ease. All of this was done to expand the vocabulary necessary to articulate the story developing amongst the tracks.
The results of these artistic and personal upheavals are written into every moment of AMOVREVX from the vacillating thematics and shape shifting genre splicing to the mutating sound design and production. Like our many selves slipping in and out of focus from moment to moment no two songs on the album sound alike and yet they are all carry a piece of a common thread. It is an album that is held together by the insistence on splitting apart and creating something new in the process, a sentiment voiced most directly by Pham in the track “Nous.” “Why stifle the oscillations?” She asks before suggesting “Divide yourself in two.”