Recorded in 1987, and now reissued for the first time on vinyl, At Swim 2 Birds must have sat as awkwardly with the then-new brace of Flying Nun super groups (Straitjacket Fits, Headless Chickens) as it did with the sparkling digital pop of the day (Eurythmics, anyone?)
If anything, this modest collection of instrumental tracks takes its cue from those Brian Eno tracks from the mid-‘70s, pre-ambient but heading away from song, and open to a kind of gentle experimentation; and like those records, At Swim 2 Birds doesn’t sound like it belongs to any particular era, and is free of genre baggage.
Apparently, Jefferies was looking for an escape clause from the group rock ethos of This Kind Of Punishment, and sought solace in the house of folk musician Jono Lonie, with its views of the ocean and the Otago peninsula. You can sense the fresh air and the calm environment in these recordings, on which Jefferies applied loops and tape effects to his drums, piano and guitar, while Lonie himself added ‘guitar treatments’ and violin.
It’s the kind of album you might put on the stereo after a long night out, such is the sense of quietude that pokes through the ferns. This is not a drippy new age record, though: there’s some sharp foliage to complement the soft, inviting moss. Dissonance is utilised whenever it serves the music, but overall, there’s a kind of beauty at play here redolent of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in its more lyrical moments. The guitar work and sound design also feels like it has absorbed the sound aesthetics of two Eno compatriots of the ‘70s, Robert Fripp and Fred Frith. (And that’s a good thing, by the way.)
While it’s a minor work – these sketches are too fragmented and episodic to take it to the next compositional level – it’s a very enjoyable one, mainly because the unfettered joy of two musicians doing exactly what they want to do at that moment exudes from the grooves.