Anna Hale, who performs as Swampwalk, writes songs that sometimes feel like little brain-soothing meditations for day-to-day crises. She describes them, only half joking, as “mantras for the mentally disturbed.” They are songs, she says, “to sing to yourself to make yourself feel good.”
Her layered, loop-based melodies — which she creates with the help of a four-track sequencer that she runs on a Gameboy — are simple. They’re also danceable, and full of surprising turns and hooks that stick to your memory like burdocks.
Friday, Hale releases her second Swampwalk record, Us vs. Them, a followup to last year’s Sweatin’ Out the Small Stuff. It’s a more ambitious effort than Sweatin’ Out, and leading up to the release, she’s still working out exactly how make it happen onstage. Her setup is always changing, but it’s usually a little complicated — in addition to the Gameboy, her current “robot family” includes a Pocket Piano synth, a Korg Volca Beats analog drum machine, Big Muff pedal, Voicelive 3 looper and a Stratocaster. “I know what I want it to be,” she says, laughing, referring to the project in general. “But as one person it’s hard to achieve.”
Us vs. Them, which Hale recorded in her parents’ basement, finds her tapping into her love of hip hop. The beats are darker and heavier and, overall, the lyrics are more overtly political. “I enjoy the lyrical importance of hip hop, but it’s hard to find a flow,” she says. “I’m trying to move that way, but at the end of the day I’m still a singer-songwriter.”
That said, Hales has a knack for catchy vocal patterns. Her sing-songy delivery on “Look Up” creates an ominous counterbalance to guest rapper Moemaw Naedon. But she most closely approaches rapper territory herself with “Not Yr Commodity,” where she calmly rages against the patriarchy. It’s well-mined subject matter, but Hale’s clever and subtly funny lyricism adds freshness and urgency.
Hale hopes fans of Sweatin’ Out’s (relatively) straight-ahead electro indie rock won’t bail on Us vs. Them, but she likely has nothing to worry about. Singing these songs to yourself feels just as good. “I’d like think my ‘voice’ is still there,” she says. “I’m trying to expand, but it’s still there.”