After releasing projects entitled Barlow Hill and Fishing in a Small Boat, Swim Camp’s TomMorris accumulated a reputation for measured, introspective alternative country that drew onbedroom recording traditions and the bucolic soundscapes of hisnative Pennsylvania. Now, onthe project’s forthcoming LP, Steel Country, Tom cranks up the distortion in a gentle nod toshoegaze that evokes senses of desolation and chaos that unfurl around him. Tom’s alwaysbeen fascinated by visual signs of desolation, observing the abandoned century structures in hisPhiladelphia neighborhood and dreaming up stories of what they must have been. It’s throughthis narrative practice of archiving that Tom explores figures outside of himself after dedicatingSwim Camp toautobiography and confession.Tom is a compulsory recorder, as shown by Steel Country’s fourteen distinct tracks. Throughsnapshot stories alongside personal musings, Tom elaborates on the figure of the “steelcountry,” a desiccated mummy of the prosperous network of settlements it once was in theheyday of industry. Much like how the phrase “steel country” conjures up images of a derelictlandscape past its glory days, the tracks on the album conjure up imagery of strainedfriendships, unhealthy dynamics,and nearly unrecognizable contexts that make you wonder:what happened here?The alt-country and slow Americana styling that made Barlow Hill and Fishing in a Small Boatso resonant are still present on Steel Country, but rent asunder with the crashing power ofshoegaze. By leaning into this pedalheaded rock, Steel Country bottles up some of the chaos ofcontemporary living into a digestible artifact. At one level, chaos begets abandonment, aspeople flee disorder in search of some semblance of tidiness.But to Tom, there’s spellbindingbeauty in chaos, and Steel Country harnesses the power of it to do justice to experience. Whereprevious records occupied the sonic midpoint between Hovvdy and Duster, Steel Countryshares more in common with Jason Molina and Wednesday, using the poignant thrust ofdistortion to reckon with the hollowed-out shells of people, places, and memories.At times, Tom returns to his diaristic bedroom roots, archiving his own emotions andexperiences with a mature lens. Lead single“Pillow” commemorates a complicated but beautifulfriendship that fades in the wake of circumstantial adjustments, with guitar lines that crackleoverhead like a conflict-laden raincloud. “Say Hi,” one of a handful of tracks recorded with MarkWatter at Headroom Studio, is one of Tom’s first forays into playing hard and heavy, recountingTom’s trouble keeping distance from an ex who hounded him well after the breakup, conjuringup reasons to reenter his life and wield influence.At other junctures, Tom removes his experience from the equation altogether, preferring theintricate world of fantasy to explore emotional and cerebral tensions. With a prowess forsuccinct storytelling not unlike contemporary Alex G, “Dougie (For Sharyl)” is a character studyof the loving fuck-up, whose steadfast support turns sinister in the blink of an eye. “Line in Sand”observes Tom’s target characters drowning in their feelings, each acting as a buoy to whom theother can lean on to stay afloat. They help each other draw softboundaries, scrambling forgentle orderliness.
Tom recorded the bulk of Steel Country in his Philadelphia home and in the Poconos to tape.“Say Hi” was recorded with Mark Watter of Headroom Studios, who also mixed the record.Heather Jones of So Big Auditory mastered the record. Steel Country will be out on February17th via Julia’s War Recordings, the label curated by They Are Gutting A Body Of Waterbandleader Douglas Dulgarian