May 27, 2016

EP: Swanning - Drawing Down the Moon

Take a trip down Swanning's empowering journey.

When Swanning sings, “My revenge is a piece of me / I feed it almost everything,” on "Swanning," you believe her. There’s no question where her songwriting comes from on Drawing Down the Moon, and how much power she had to find in her vulnerability. The EP is an intimate look at Cynthia Schemmer’s personal journey. Packed with catchy, shreddy, and artfully composed reflections on life, loss, and growth, it’s the rare album where you sense the artist’s shift in perspective over time. From feeling emotionally trapped to reorienting oneself after unthinkable loss, Schemmer covers it all. And it’s her first solo project in years, if you can believe it.

“I’m not who you once knew,” she shrugs on the EP’s title track, and proudly claims, “I get dangerous with age” on “Sleep My Pretties.” It’s a wry threat, as if she’s asserting her own strength and self-love as a warning. The fourth track, “Downtown,” is one of the most empowering breakup songs to arrive in a while. It’s also the album’s best meditation on untangling yourself from “toxic relationships,” which Swanning herself described as a major theme of the EP. “Downtown” kicks off by placing herself and an unnamed party purposefully somewhere too noisy to interact with one another. The lyrics then reveal that she’s too exhausted to end another draining relationship that’s run its course, but remaining in it is sapping her of even more energy. For the first few verses, Schemmer strums the guitar and playfully sings along, and at the three-minute mark, it happens: The rest of the band comes crashing in in spectacular fashion. Finally, the music mirrors the intensity of her feelings toward this stifling relationship, the rage at having spent so much time with a person that’s held her back. The lesson here? A person who was right for you at one point in your life – romantically, platonically, or otherwise – may not be good for your soul forever. And in grief’s weird, wide wake, there’s simply no place for people who make you feel small, or for whom you make yourself smaller. (But it’s okay to have to discover that on your own.)

Though the banner on her Bandcamp page still reads “It’s been ten years since you left, and I’ve been swanning around ever since,” there’s power in the way the phrase ends: “Until now.” By embracing this project, pouring heart and emotion and honesty into her music, taking it on the road, riffing and sharing and feeling with and for new audiences, revisiting diary entries and childhood recordings and exploring it all, she is anything but swanning. In just six excellent tracks, Schemmer learns to embrace the person she’s become, and doesn’t discuss the past with any malice – instead, she’s proud of who she is today, and open to her next experiences. The wistfulness in her stunningly charming voice reads as admiration for how much she’s learned along the way to creating this EP. And we can learn a lot from her. 
If you dig Drawing Down the Moon, check out Cynthia Schemmer’s work as the managing editor of She Shreds magazine, her gorgeous visual diary for The Le Sigh, and her mad guitar skills in fellow Philly band Radiator Hospital. And if you’re hitting up the record release show in Philadelphia on Tuesday – and you should, because the bill is stacked – say hi to me!


Listen to Swanning on bandcamp.


Sophy Ziss is a writer and feelings-haver based in Philadelphia. Tweet pets and music recommendations to @sophyish.