Formed in Dublin in 2010, Swords are a three-piece electro indie-pop outfit and the latest contenders to be Irish band du jour. Marked out by the novel absence of a guitarist, Swords comprise vocalist Diane Anglim (she also covers piano and synth duties), drummer Ian Frawley and bassist Jarlath Canning. Following up a recent well-received EP, Lions & Gold is the trio's first full-length record. As electro-pop hooks alternate with darker slow-burning moments, Lions & Gold (produced by Karl Odlum) is the sound of a group who frequently aim for epic grandeur, but remain keen to acknowledge the immediacy of melodic pop.
The album's more leisurely tracks appear to adhere to a build-and-intensify template. It's a trick used to positive effect on 'Hips', as a simple but striking piano lingers while fragile, vulnerable vocals hover above, and the moment three minutes in when muffled drums burst to life is neatly gratifying. With some tunes ('Hips', 'Skin You') sounding akin to epic ballads in the Evanescence mold, Anglim's pitch and intonation complement this style, additional echoes of Florence Welch notable throughout. And it is the vocals that connect during 'Skin You', as Anglim's voice controls and steers the intensity of the instrumentation. However, with many tracks breaching the four-and-a-half minute mark, some delicate moments are stretched to breaking point. Measured it may be, but Lions & Gold tends to lag. Elsewhere, the chimes of the album's title track fail to leave much lasting impression, while 'Crossbeat' promises with a pulsating electro swagger, but ultimately ends before it can really begin.
During punchier numbers, Swords stray in to Fight Like Apes territory, albeit without the mischief and anarchy of MayKay's gang. The galvanising first single to be taken from the album,' All the Boys', is a snappy slice of toe-tapping indie-pop which leaves scant time to process the emotive previous track, the aforementioned 'Hips'. The grand gesture of 'Nine Nights' hits the spot, culminating in an electro wig-out. Meanwhile, the depth to the songs hint at a darker edge beyond the poppy veneer, exemplified most patently by the brooding, swirling 'The Menace'. Here, moody synths and haunting piano provide a quasi-Depeche Mode synthesised murk.
Over the course of eleven tracks, Anglim and colleagues do much to suggest that Swords could be major players, provided they continue to harness and refine their sound. Lions & Gold is indeed a solid basis to work from, but on this occasion, the band fails to be as angular or incisive as their moniker or the album's geometrical artwork suggest.
Review by Killian Barry