Animals That Swim – Workshy

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

There is so much to like about this band that almost no one (in this country) has ever heard of, and for reasons most people would also dispute:  the trumpet; the black sense of humor; the realism of the lyrics (except for the times when they are magic realistic); the essentially spoken delivery of the vocals; the three siblings strong line-up; the fact that the producer (Dare Mason) was the ex-husband of a band member’s wife. But some of this is window-dressing, because the fact is that they wrote some amazing songs that, once you’ve listened to them, you will never forget.

What I Think of This Album

This is an oddball debut that proudly wears its weirdness on its sleeve, and makes you root for these misfits and celebrate their resounding victory. Key to the appeal is that you never once suspect that there is any artifice at work here – in just a few songs you are utterly convinced that these guys could not make a straightforward album if their pub tabs depended on it, nor are they magnifying their idiosyncrasies just to garner attention (or alienate). 

Here there are songs about conversing with Roy Orbison’s bitter, shit-talking ghost (“Roy”); recuperating from a car crash in a hospital (“Pink Carnations”); photography pioneer Madame Yevonde (“Madame Yevonde”); embarrassing oneself in front of Vic Chestnutt (“Vic”); and a painter who is visited by both the Devil and Jesus (“Barney”). The trumpet is not mindless garnish but an integral part of the sound, as are the elegant vocals – sometimes bold and other times dry, alternating between droll and resigned, and you never know what to expect from the band, but you can be sure it’s going to be amazing.

The band included Hugh Barker (guitar), Al Barker (keys and guitar), and Hank Starrs (born Jeffrey Barker) on drums and lead vocals.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Pink Carnations” moves from shocking to droll to deflated to grisly to poetic to grim to caustic to poignant, all in under three minutes. There’s no chorus (I mean, musically there is, but not lyrically). It’s like nothing I have ever heard.

Release Date

1996 in the US, but 1994 in the UK

The Cover Art

Okay. This is artwork that would definitely get you beaten up in high school (maybe not anymore, thankfully). I assume this is related to Madame Yevonde’s early work in color photography and use of props; the colors are washed out and there is a green tinge to the whole thing, which the more I look at, the less I mind. The box with the artist and album info is obtrusive and awkward, and the font for the band name is awful. It reminds me a bit of the art for the Pale Saints’ The Comforts of Madness.

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