Night Swimmer, “Xia Ye”
By Andy Beta · August 30, 2022 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

From Night Swimmer’s vantage point, the global pandemic looked and felt remarkably different. He Dengke hails from Wuhan, a key cog in that city’s unfettered underground music scene. And while 2019 was a busy year for the producer, dropping both Shan Shui and Shock River in quick succession, such momentum was stopped cold by the end of the year as his city became ground zero for what soon followed. In February 2020, while COVID-19 was still a faraway headline in the West rather than a nightmarish actuality, Night Swimmer dropped a queasy, chillwave-tinged standalone single with the message “dedicated to those suffering from the losses of families and those losing lives HOPE STILL REMAINS,” and then fell silent.

Those intervening two years of conflict, chaos, isolation, vacillating emotional states, and a search for sanity or serenity of some kind define his long-awaited new album, Xia Ye. To make it, Dengke retreated from the big city back to his hometown. Throughout, the album plays with such polarities and opposites, from the title (Xia can translate as “summer” or “idle,” Ye as “night” or “wilderness”) to the tracks themselves, which whiplash from crisp beats and tactile instrumentation to wholly synthesized realms. In almost any track, you can hear Dengke grapple with the same tumult of emotions that befell us these past few years.

“Killing Time” encapsulates such extremes in under four minutes. It comes on as chilled-out and placid, with tones that shimmer like synthesized raindrops, embodying a Fourth World ambient aesthetic. It then quickens into something anxious, hectic, and nervy, like someone trying to focus on deep breathing before lapsing into a doom-scroll on their phone before realizing again that they lost track of their inhale.

On the soundtrack-esque “Suspiria,” Dengke toggles between twanging strings and smooth saxophone and smeared electronics, before dropping the track into bleary-eyed, cavernous abstraction. More of that sleek saxophone drives “Night/ Field,” with Dengke this time pairing it to a slick beat for an ‘80s noir-groover. Elsewhere, Dengke recreates the ritualistic percussion of what the notes call “his hometown’s local rituals for the dead.”

Through most of the album, Night Swimmer prefers the unsettled, the warped, the temporal, as if to convey that nagging sense that at any moment, this could all crumble away. Just when you think the dancefloor peak “Depressionfruit” will keep ascending, you’re plunged back into a twilit realm until the final minute. In that way it continues to emulate our post-pandemic headspace, cautiously moving forward while achingly aware it might all grind to a halt at any moment. In that way, Xia Ye reflects the precarious balance of staying mindful amid a crushingly uncertain world.

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