A good friend of mine on Facebook recommended that I listen to and review Courtney Swain’s new EP, Growing Pains. And his timing was perfect, because I was in search of something new to review.
Courtney’s musical roots were formed playing and learning classical piano, her interest leading to an affinity with heavier orchestrated music. She is the lead vocalist with Bent Knee, a Boston-based band once described by The Wall Street Journal as a “silo-smashing sextet [that] taps into chamber pop, industrial rock, metal and prog-rock”. Bent Knee’s fourth album, Land Animal, was released in June 2017 by InsideOut Music.
On the Growing Pains EP, Courtney’s voice is accompanied by herself on piano with a string quartet in support, who also add additional vocals to the final track, Prickly Thorn. This is a more personal release than her work with Bent Knee, without the orchestration and heavy guitars. It is a deep emotional cry, uncovering many personal issues and stories which have obviously been important parts of Courtney’s life, and that she has wished to write and sing about for years.
I previewed some of Bent Knee’s new album and found that Courtney pretty well sings her mind, which is refreshing with so many female singers trying to live up to other singers from the past. As an example, one of the most powerful tracks on Growing Pains is Snow Globe:
I’m not sane. Not worth it any more.”
A whole year’s worth of thought;
And all I got was a crappy card with a donation in my name, to Save the Ducks.
Well I don’t give a fuck about the Ducks.
Cause I just burned every bridge I got.
And I never thought I’d be alone.”
Don’t be scared of the dark.”
Courtney performs it personally, and you can absolutely feel her sadness, anger and emotion throughout the delivery of these lyrics.
Her voice is hard to describe. At times she sounds as powerful as Grace Slick, free to say whatever she wants, without Grace’s vocal beauty. Her voice has that ‘little girl’, quality to it, but not as sweet as Karen Peris. You can hear the pain and toughness in her voice. Courtney’s voice is very different and thankfully cannot be categorized…at least by me.
Every track on this album is full of powerful messages, of how to treat and relate to people and how important every human interaction is for each person. She really has an uncanny ability to describe her feelings and emotions in a straightforward way that clarifies how she wants to be treated and what she expects from her interpersonal relations. Rarely have I heard any singer divulge all of her deepest feelings in this way. This EP is a statement that all people – especially men – should listen to and be aware of in their interactions with women.
Look at the song titles and you can almost telegraph where the thoughts and ideas will travel; Wish Bone, Snow Globe, Moon Stalker, Glitter Bomb and Prickly Thorn, but listening to the deliberately powerful lines of her prose is an experience that you should witness and hear. This is an extensive listening experience despite its brevity as an EP.
01. Wish Bone (3:57)
02. Snow Globe (3:54)
03. Moon Stalker (4:10)
04. Glitter Bomb (4:47)
05. Prickly Thorn (6:11)
Total Time – 22:59
Courtney Swain – Vocals & Piano
Abby Swidler – Violin & Additional Vocals (5)
Abigale Reisman – Violin & Additional Vocals (5)
Anna Stromer – Viola & Additional Vocals (5)
Valerie Thompson – Cello & Additional Vocals (5)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 10th November 2017