Album Review: Sinai Vessel – ‘Ground Aswim’

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“Who do I talk to when I’d like to give up?” asks Sinai Vessel’s Caleb Cordes on “Tunneling,” a song on the back half of his new album Ground Aswim. I’ve been thinking about this line a lot since I first heard it. Of course, there’s the surface level to it, wondering if there’s some force out there we can consult when things get too hard – a way to quit the game. But there’s also a more individual level; wondering if there’s anyone in our lives we can turn to when things feel insurmountable. It’s not a question asked in even a darkly humorous manner; Cordes is being just as honest as he does throughout the record.

 It’s hard to imagine that the song’s ethos wouldn’t resonate with just about anyone who hears it – who amongst us hasn’t felt like they’d like to “get off the ride” at some point this year. The timing could not have been better for the release of Ground Aswim. This is an album that deals with the visceral malaise ingrained in our very existence and looks at it from all angles. It tries looking on the bright side, framing what’s presented “as a gift” on “A Must While So Near”, or crumbles under the weight as it does on “All Days Just End.” That song is loud, riddled with riffs and drums that burst with the force of geysers, but its lyrics reveal the psychic, existential pain of a monotonous life. It’s a few minutes of blowing off steam, grappling with reality, anxiously pacing around your room, wrapped up in a tremendous song. Much of Ground Aswim is like this. You can hear Cordes achieving epiphanies or reaching a breaking point in nearly every track. His songwriting feels truly unique. 

Perhaps one of the most frequent comparisons made to Cordes’ voice and Sinai Vessel’s general inclination is Death Cab for Cutie. They make for a sensible side by side, as each vocalist fills every word past its saturation point with emotion. “Shameplant”, the record’s second single, calls to mind Death Cab’s heyday, as Cordes opens with “Well I love you with every part of me / save for the part that does not,” a lyric that could have been somewhere on Plans. The song finds Cordes reflecting on passivity through the extended metaphor of gardening. “[You] Can’t expect to grow a garden and depend on only rain.” He’s acknowledging the work inherent in even our relationships with others, that nothing is guaranteed without actively seeking it.

Cordes has said in interviews, including one with our own Michael Brooks, that Big Thief was the principal influence on the record. If Cordes was trying to instill the music with Adrianne Lenker’s quiet power, he would have succeeded. When the guitars swell on songs like “Antechamber” or “Tunneling”, they do so with the cathartic release of “Not”. – albeit less showy. 

Ground Aswim is an album to keep close at hand. It’s the perfect soundtrack to throw on when you need to get up and go for a walk, even if just to keep from remaining idle. At a moment where every day can feel more crushing than the last, it’s remarkable to have a piece of art to turn to that seems to feel the same, and address that feeling honestly.


Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal

You can purchase Ground Aswim now on vinyl on Sinai Vessel’s bandcamp.

Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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