Song: "Swallow Me"
Album: Breath From Another
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)
Though it is not particularly "easy" to find success in any genre, there is perhaps none more daunting and full of failed attempts than that of the delicate balance between "ambient" and "trip-hop," both coming out of the down-tempo electronic style of music. In an overwhelming majority of cases, the music is either completely unoriginal, the vocals are out of place, or for lack of a better word, the song is simply boring. Yet in a few cases, the balance is found, and the resulting music tends to rank among the most beautiful musical textures on the planet. Within this elite group of performers, few have as keen a sense of mood, combined with a truly stunning voice as that of Esthero. Though her second full length record, Wikked Lil' Grrrls is a wonderfully diverse affair that remains one of the finest albums in history, her debut LP, 1998's Breath From Another stands as one of the most important records in the history of the genre. The combination of superb beats and musical arrangements, all behind the stellar voice of Esthero make the album still largely unrivaled more than a decade after its release, and it remains a blueprint for how to perfectly execute within the genre. Though there is not a "bad" moment anywhere on the record, it is perhaps the records' final track, "Swallow Me" that stands as the shining moment, and in many ways, it perfectly captures everything that makes Esthero such a stunning musical force.
The key to any great down-tempo style song is finding the balance between keeping the music light enough, yet not being so soft and spacey that that it becomes dull and lulls listeners to sleep. Though this seems simple enough, it is without question the largest stumbling block, yet on "Swallow Me," producer and musical arranger, Doc, clearly has no trouble with this task. With the base of a beat that at first might seem a bit overly aggressive for the genre, it quickly becomes nothing short of hypnotizing. Mixing in everything from synthesizer loops to string arrangements to a host of other sounds, "Swallow Me" perfectly captures the songs' title, as it envelops the listener in a warm cocoon of sound, and this is very much the "magic" behind the song. The fact that this seemingly "heavy" beat unquestionably "works" on the track, and the manner with which Doc flawlessly fuses it into the deep, almost murky tone of the song makes it like nothing else that was being done at the time, and it is very much this style that makes Breath From Another still a massive influence to this day. Similarly, it is this ability to move beyond the slower tempoed core of the down-tempo genre that makes Esthero such a unique artist, and though her next record would spotlight her unparalleled abilities, it is on tracks like "Swallow Me" that one quickly realizes that her talents are far beyond that of nearly all of her peers.
In many ways, one could pull away the fantastic music from "Swallow Me," and the song would still be amazing, as the vocal work and lyrics from Esthero are, much like the entire album, unquestionably the spotlight of the song. Showing her ability to easily slide from the lower, moodier verses to her glorious, soaring vocals on the bridge and chorus, there are truly only a handful of artists of her generation that even come close to the sheer power and beauty of Esthero's voice. Bringing a level of soul and emotion that was seemingly lost amongst artists across the musical spectrum, the honestly and purity within her vocal delivery is as refreshing as it is unique in an era that was filled with copycat performers. The multi-tracked harmonies are equally beautiful, and once one moves past the overwhelming power of her voice, one finds a lyric that is nothing short of brilliant. Though it can be read in a number of ways, the overall tone of the song is one of self-empowerment and the strength that one gains from the power of music. In what is absolutely one of the most fantastic lines ever written, there are few artists who have so perfectly captured the feeling of music as perfectly as when Esthero sings, "...music is the lamb that made a lion out of me..." The song is filled with similarly astute observations that are spun into exquisite lyrical form, and the soul and heart with which Esthero delivers each line makes "Swallow Me" one of the most extraordinary songs ever committed to tape.
Laying the groundwork for countless artists that would follow, Esthero's full length debut, Breath From Another remains today one of the most important and unique albums of the entire down-tempo and electronic genres. Combining her unparalleled vocal prowess with perfectly balanced, wonderfully moody music, the album is nothing short of mesmerizing, and it serves as a testament that even within a genre that is often more about mood than substance, there is no need to sacrifice the power of a good lyric. The wall of sound that was created by Doc flawlessly captures the tone of the lyrics, and it is one of the few songs that seems to "surround" the listener, creating a very unique musical moment. Esthero herself has rarely sounded better, as she delicately slides her gorgeous voice in and out of this musical bubble, making for a musical experience that is nothing short of blissful. Topping it all off, the lyrics to the song capture the mood in an uncanny fashion, and it leaves one wondering whether the music drove the lyrics, or the lyrics were the inspiration for the music. Anyone who has ever been touched by music can easily relate to the phenomenal words, and through her soul-bearing performance on the track, it is clear that few can rival the knowledge of this feeling as much as Esthero herself. Remaining today one of the most amazing songs ever recorded, Esthero's "Swallow Me" is unquestionably as perfect a trip-hop or ambient track as one will find anywhere in the history of music, as well as one of the finest songs ever recorded in any genre.