Sidewards – Swampadelica
Sidewards, the long-in-the-making sophomore release from New Jersey’s Swampadelica, has the unfortunate distinction of sounding like its title but not exactly for positive reasons.
Since their inception, Swampadelica has been unable to maintain a consistent lineup (wading through the "history" section of their website is a dizzying experience), which makes the development of a specific sound all the more challenging. Following a few lineup changes (most important being Brian Herkert stepping in on lead guitar and Nadine Lafond replacing the 'Whoa Bips,' vocalists Nicole Grana and Kerri Lavin), the band went, in late 2001, with producer John Siket to Trey Anastasio's Barn in Vermont to begin recording the tracks for Sidewards. But before the album had been finished, lead singer Stevo Nelson decided to quit, and – in the aftermath – Lafond and keyboardist Damian Calcagne emerged as Swampadelica’s two dominant vocalists.
Which is both a blessing and a curse. Lafond, a Haitian-American, is a gifted and soulful singer, her voice a perfect complement to Swampadelica's stew of funk, hip-hop, world-beat and jazz. The album's most emotionally resonant moments – the closing ballad "Water," and the entire gripping suite of "Ganesh" – are able to hit these plateaus largely thanks to the sinuous and spiritual quality of Lafond's singing. She also has the capacity to wow you with the raw power of her voice, but, unfortunately, on many of the upbeat tracks she plays backup to Calcagne, who, for some strange reason, thought he could rap his way through otherwise tolerable songs like "Dr. Drib" and "Like a Lifeboat" — and believe me, it's not a pretty sound.
But beyond Calcagne's subpar vocals, the main problem with Sidewards is that it contains too few moments where the music sounds inspired. The rhythms (even the more upbeat ones) are generally lazy and generic — as on the four-part, pseudo-MMW suite, "Sidle’s Landing," which drags on purposelessly for ten minutes, as well as "Zero" and "Jimmy." Moments that make your spine tingle are just hard to come by. Swampadelica sounds here like a band in transition; their album left this listener feeling sluggish, as if I had put forth a good deal of effort but received little in return, as if I had been walking Sidewards.