Swimming Back to Shore Without Me

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Downtempo indie rock songs, the acoustic four-track-recorder-in-the-bedroom kind, are usually charged with sadness and soft-spoken desperation. The fact that Bunkbed leader Keith Krate died after the completion of this, his second full-length album, can't help but add extra pathos to his ballads. Given the D.I.Y. sound and sometimes-sketchy quality of the songs, it is tempting to see Swimming Back to Shore Without Me as an interrupted work in progress, but the final tapes had been delivered to the record label and the album was already slated for release when Krate died. He handles all instruments: guitars (mostly acoustic), keyboards (mostly piano and string synth), percussion, and vocals. Various female vocalists join him. Marcy Saude does a convincing job whispering the melodies in the microphone, but Kyle Swenson really lacks a good voice -- even for post-Low indie rock. The album starts badly with a first version of "Fake Soul" standing shaky on a single keyboard accompaniment; there is nothing wrong with the idea of making it sound like it misses a few tracks, but the trick simply doesn't work here. Another, much fuller version of the song appears halfway through the album, and it provides the highlight of the set. "Substance Abuse," the instrumental "Piano and Strings," and the short "Sunken Ship" are all strong textbook pieces for the genre. "Some Things That I Do" is also included in two versions, the second one closing the "regular" set (there is an extra, unannounced encore) the same way it started, with a hollowed-out arrangement. Krate's universe is not a jolly one, but if you like these kinds of heart-on-sleeve songs and don't mind the lack of sound quality, Swimming Back to Shore Without Me makes a decent swan song.

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