Paul Coltofeanu, the man behind The Android Angel moniker, has in these past months simultaneously produced music behind another moniker, Free Swim. Now, the first thing I have to admit is that most of this post should have been up last year, but life continued to get in the way. However, as I sat back this morning, listening to the first two releases and the brand new one, I instantly remembered why this truly independent musician has always fascinated me: incredible song writing. All three of these EPs are written with a narrative in mind, where music is used not only as a melodic accompaniment to narration, but used to signify mood, setting, and characterization. Collectively these three EPs may be a break from Coltofeanu’s personal introspection as The Android Angel, but they are a deep mediation on universal truths that we often forget.
“Two Hands is OK” (17 January 2011)
There are many things that I can say about “Two Hands is OK,” such as the music is universally appealing, as it acts as the background of the narrative of the story. But I think I am going to frame this EP in terms of its narratology.
The “Two Hands is OK” EP opens with a very catchy instrumental, “The Eureka Moment.” Think of the song as the exposition of the narrative, the background – the anxiousness of living in this fast paced world, then having that moment, that singular idea that will solve everything: two new hands. Then the rising action kicks in the second track: “I’ll Graft Two Extra Hands on My Chest”: “There was once a man so incredibly busy, being a father, a son, and a saleman. He grafted two new hands to his chest.” This of course will allow him to “sign more documentation and multitask much more efficiently.” But this sense of productivity goes beyond work: “He pleasured his wife, he pleasured himself”
Continuing the famous narrative graph that haunted most students in secondary schools, “Actually, Two Hands is OK” would be the climax, when others finally take note and form an opinion of the man: “I guess you’d hope he’d more than cope with the demands of life in the fast lane.” But his unfurling comes with a Rubrix Cube (those damn things!). His hands become obsessed with completing the puzzle that he finally loses control, not just of his hands, but also of life in his obsession to straighten things out. Then the falling action comes in “Rubik’s Rue.” With a bit of postmodern self-reference (“I’m aware that’s a slightly lazy metaphor, but I only studied English to GCSE.”), his wife suggests he has the extra hands removed. He thinks that life “wasn’t so bad” with two hands. Ultimately, the operation is a success. In the resolution of the narrative, “Quality Time With the Wife and Kids,” there is the realization that “sometimes life get hard, sometimes thing get tough, but most important is quality time…”
The moral of the story: the wear and tear of everyday life and everything we do to be more efficient in the wage-labor market is all for naught, compared to the quality time we spend in our lives. Here is the laziest of clichés: we should work to live, not live to work.
Track Listing: The Eureka Moment / I’ll Graft Two Extra Hands on My Chest / Actually, Two Hands Is OK / Rubik’s Rue / Quality Time With the Wife and Kins
[“The Eureka Moment” from the paulcolto YouTube Channel.]
“Yolanda the Panda” (28 March 2011)
Again, the EP is arched around a narrative, but this time around the narrative and music is definitely more ambitious. For instance, Colteaufeanu takes out that acoustic guitar and does some of his most beautiful strumming – and let me state for the record, that he is, in my opinion, one of the most emotive acoustic strummers out there. As the narrative is even more fantastic (a Panda, a Willet, and an Englishman are going mountain climbing!), the music this time does not simply just mirror the urgency of the narrative, but rather amplifies the characterization in terms of capturing their emotions.
From the start, “I Want to be a Mountaineer!” there is the consciousness of “I want to feel some adrenaline.” This sets the actions of the narrative, but (in the next track “Harmlessly English”) it is when Yolanda meets “a willet bird who told me all about Sir Edmund Hillary and what he did on Everest,” that both decide that they will “conqueur Everest…” They build a boat, they sail (to beautiful strumming), and encounter Michael Perham, the Englishman – described as “weird and overbearing, but he was harmlessly English…”
Again, with a bit of postmodernist self-referencing and intertextualizing, “Swooping Swoopily like a Swooping Swoop” references the debut LP. The story gets all convoluted here, when the Willet is seized by Chinese authorities, who want to force Yolanda back to San Diego (as she was on loan to the USA, which is profitable to the Chinese government). But long story short, Yolanda is able to escape and scale Mount Everest. With the “sponsorship from Michael Perham,” she is reunited with her parents. The Willet flies back to San Diego. And Yolanda is able to return to an ordinary life, much like the man with two removed hands at the end of his EP, in the final track “Scoring Bamboo Shoots.”
The moral of the story: Not only does Coltofeanu like happy endings, but also at the end of all the adventures returning to the mundane, the everyday routine is comforting. How did Dorothy put it? “There’s no place like home.” (Another lazy metaphor.)
Track Listing: I Want to be a Mountaineer! / Harmlessly English / Swooping Swoopily like a Swooping Swoop / Scoring Bamboo Shoots
[“Swooping Swoopily like a Swooping Swoop” from the Free Swim Bandcamp page.]
“Dennis” (20 February 2012)
The latest offering by Free Swim is the EP “Dennis.” Again, Paul Coltofeanu pins this collection of music to a cohesive narrative: a bromance. There is something intrinsically homoerotic about all bromances, no matter what anyone says. The opening title is not simply, “Dennis,” but rather “Oh Dennis.” As the monologue of the song points out, the name Dennis is derived from the Greek god of grape harvest, winemaking, and ecstasy – can you say drunken orgies? The music, very straight forward 80s style indie, with some electronic fare in the background, just drives the point of urgency straight through “getting to get to know someone called Dennis.” Then the partying starts in “Croydon Fernandes,” but Dennis meets a girl with a Dickens-esque name, Sophie Buttercup! Our narrators’ reaction, “I dropped my phone, left all alone in my home, all alone,” all the time the near punky music just driving both the sense of camaraderie in the bromance and the sense of dejection of a woman coming between them.
In “The Smell of Pregnancy,” he acknowledges losing the bromance, surrounded by young couples (whose “smell of pregnancy was genuinely over-powering”), and finally meets “an alcohol-fuelled Peter Pan,” whom he goes on tour with to obscure German cities. Time elapses before the final track, “Cyclying Holidays in the Ardeche.” After putting on his favorite jeans, he is surprised by a call from Dennis, who wanted to meet up: “It was good to see him, can’t deny I’d missed him; glad I didn’t kiss him, but we hugged like men.” Dennis came to ask the narrator to be his best man at his wedding, and at the wedding (after his speech) he (the narrator) falls for the maid of honor, whose name is Denise.
The moral of the story: the final line of the song says it all, “Life is what you make of it my friends.” As we never know the ups and downs and twists and turns that befall us, it is best to just ride it all out and appreciate every moment.
Track Listing: Oh Dennis / Croydon Fernandes / The Smell of Pregnancy / Cycling Holidays in the Ardeche
[“Oh Dennis” from the Free Swim Bandcamp page.]
Keep up Free Swim at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and download all three EPs.