CD Review: Don’t Swimmin’

(Steve Basham / Facebook)

If one were to listen to this unique treasure as a single song, the storyline would go something like this: the protagonist and his friends visit hell, and a bar, to save their lady friends. After meeting and conversing with Satan for a while, the prince of demons convinces his guests to join him in the dining room where the head of the waiter is served.

Two realities clash in this album: the fantastical dream world and the ’real’ world. One must consider the possibility that the protagonist suffers from schizophrenia, and that hell is a bar, not, perhaps confusingly, a bar in hell, or, perhaps most simply, that these events are only happening inside the mind of the protagonist as he sleeps. The bar transforms into a forest, and our hero and company find themselves on a sing-along quest for the beer. The beer is quickly  acquired, and in returning to the bar, our fellowship exposes the frivolity of social conventions: specifically competitive courting rituals, as the male members of the company sport fancy suits and fake the French language to impress a French woman named Joanna.

The division between the dream world and ‘real’ world is revealed as the protagonist wakes, lying on a sidewalk somewhere in Winnipeg, being offered a ride in fire truck. The protagonist rejects the offer and exclaims, “being escorted by a fire truck is worse than being alone!” Had the firefighters stuck around, a brutal streak of reckless murders may have been prevented. Following their departure,  haunted by visions of hell and his own mental instability, the protagonist plays the role of a serial killer, murdering his victims in a distinct signature style. This killing spree reaches its melodic climax and the listener is thrown into a mellow yet somehow chaotic scene of hapless swimming lessons (and confusion), which concludes the final track.

Whether Mr. Basham intended these six songs to be enjoyed as one is unknown to me, but it’s certainly possible. I swear he told me it was about a schizophrenic serial killer when he gave me Don’t Swimmin’, but during an intimate kitchen performance he prefaced each with a description of the events which inspired the compositions.

The lyrics are laced with bizarre and dark humour sung in a matter-of-fact style , which may result in a raised eyebrow or two, accompanied by outbursts of laughter. At times the songs sound incomplete, a notable example being Five Alarm Hangover. The majority of this song takes a slow, trudging,  tempo. Then, near the end, the song kicks into double time. Here I expected some transformation to elevate the song to a new level, but after only few seconds it abruptly stops, leaving the listener unsatisfied and hungry for more.  On the other hand, nothing is redundant or repetitive, and all of the songs progress towards a climax. The best song is probably Bridge Without A Bridge, on which Mr. Basham leaves his bass and drums to stand alone with his voice and guitar, while successfully saving a man, much to his displeasure, from jumping off a bridge.

You can listen to the whole thing for free here:

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 19, January 29, 2013.