photos by Maciek Jasik.
In the past decade, Ed Tullett has served as a primary songwriter, producer, and contributor on countless records, spanning five projects (including Novo Amor and Hailaker). But with Lowswimmer - his first solo endeavour - he invites us into a world crafted from a vision that’s decidedly his own. Marked by the orchestral opulence Tullett is known for, but paired with a sense of novel intimacy, Lowswimmer’s ‘Red-Eye Effect’ is a collection of songs concerned as much with rearview reflection as they are a hopeful sense of venturing forward.

On ‘Red-Eye Effect’ - featuring many longtime collaborators (S. Carey, Ali Lacey of Novo Amor, Ella Williams of Squirrel Flower, and Jemima Coulter of Hailaker) - Ed Tullett peers into the faded Polaroid of his past and constructs sonic worlds that echo with the auditory artifacts of his late 90s childhood. Synths blip and drone like the soundtrack to the earliest Millennial video game adventures, guitars jangle with the warmth they had resonating against the four bedroom walls of youth. But the nostalgia is paralleled by production that celebrates a future tense. Trumpets usher in the fanfare of the turning century, strings soar into extraterrestrial oblivion, reaching for contact with a forthcoming world. ‘On Red-Eye Effect’ we are always teetering on the edge of looking back and starting over.

These equal and opposite forces are ever-present throughout the album's ten songs, which were in part influenced by a documentary Tullett watched about the making of London’s Millennium Dome. The structure - which opened on New Year’s Eve in 1999 and housed an exhibition celebrating the beginning of the 21st century - was a hugely costly and politically controversial project. But despite the fact that it was deemed a disappointment when it failed to attract even half of the customers its sponsors had predicted, it is nevertheless an astonishing accomplishment - one of the largest buildings in the world by usable space and now one of the most successful venues for live music.

The Dome seems an apt metaphor for this record's themes - the starry-eyed way we look toward the future and the impulse to enshrine our past. But also the way that hope, sometimes misguided, can intertwine with fear and potential disillusionment.

The songs on ‘Red-Eye Effect’ vibrate with this particular sense of complex awe, as on album opener ‘Goldenrod’ which begins with a rustling synth that invokes the glittering videogame city from which the track derives its name. (Anyone who had a Gameboy or grew up trading Pokémon cards will catch the reference, and that’s part of the point). “Think differently,” Tullett and collaborator Bailyerp begin. “The way you are now isn’t what you want,” they assert, hinting at the yearning for metamorphosis that permeates the record’s unfolding. The song grows around the acoustic guitar as synths whir, building to the crescendo of drums entering, a euphoria full of questions, a desire for transformation that comes only with the willingness to self-explore.

But the vulnerability inherent in self-exploration is ever-present here, too. On ‘Can’t Be By Myself’ pianos click along searchingly as Tullett’s falsetto acknowledges the fear of being alone and the realisation that he needs others to grow into the person he wants to become. Tullett is joined here vocally by some of his actual community - Squirrel Flower’s Ella Williams and Ali Lacey of Novo Amor.

The three sing to the threshold of instrumental shift: trumpets enter ecstatically even as the rest of the instrumentation drips with a sort of mourning, these two sensations held in tandem and opposition.

Throughout the record, the songs are themselves instrumentally roving and expansive. They start tight like acorns, before bursting out of their shells and digging into the earth, billowing in all directions. As on ‘In Five’, in which Tullett grapples with the demise of a partnership and the tenuous acceptance that each party might be better off on their own. “Would you feel seen if I / brought up giving up?” he asks - the painful acknowledgement that sometimes the most direct path towards growth is letting go. He’s joined vocally by S. Carey, who’s collaborated on multiple Tullett projects, including the first Lowswimmer album ‘Glasshouse 1’, as well the Hailaker single ‘Wavepool’. Here, the two singers’ voices lilt an octave apart, Carey’s keeping us rooted throughout the song's shuffling build like a friend keeping us centered through a time of unpredicted change. The song opens out over a bed of strings and rattly drums and despite the pain, we feel certain that there is light just up ahead.

All of these songs seem to be tumbling forth toward album closer, ‘Millennium’ a collage of imagery invoking the turn of the century. Strings blossom, full of both eagerness and hesitation, building to the height of the record before disappearing abruptly with the potency of a gasp. We’re left with the subtle strums of an acoustic guitar, the sounds of voices chattering at a distance, and a single string drawing out its final breath.

In their simultaneous intimacy and grandeur, the songs on ‘Red-Eye Effect’ emulate the sense of emotional release that comes from facing moments of transition head on. In listening, we’re reminded that we can pierce the fold of our memory and venture forward at the same time, carrying with us all the hope, fear, and potential for disillusionment, but journeying on nevertheless. Change is inevitable. The new century will come. All we can do is try to nurture the version of ourselves we want to meet on the other side.

by A.O Gerber