King Hannah Brave the Waves on 'Big Swimmer'

BY Amanda Thacker Published May 29, 2024


Oftentimes, the line between swimming and drowning is merely one's ability to remain calm. Reflecting on their debut album I'm Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me and the whirlwind that flung them overseas in its wake, King Hannah's Hannah Merrick and Craig Whittle have resolved to fill up their lungs, puff up their chests and release their sophomore record, Big Swimmer, like a resounding exhale.

Swept across the Atlantic to embark on their first American tour, the pub-born rock duo from Liverpool found themselves traversing landscapes both profoundly new and eerily familiar. This paradox runs rampant throughout Big Swimmer, as the pair make sense of their formative experiences between stages on the other side of the pond. Just as their own dreams and perceptions become superimposed beneath those of the nostalgic American imagination, Merrick's withering deadpan and Whittle's sludgy riffs are drenched in its punk rock of the '70s and '80s; their woeful tales and dusty percussion distinctly rooted in its southern country and blues.

From the whispered count-in that opens the album to the folk harmonies that hum on the horizon in the final breaths of "John Prine on the Radio," the 11-track voyage is nothing short of a cinematic experience. Desolate highways, a congested New York, iced tea, roast chicken, a build-your-own-tuna-sandwich machine and Matthew McConaughey are mulled over amidst theatrical arrangements that teeter between eerie softness and sudden rupture — a characteristic that has come to define Merrick and Whittle's unique brand of camaraderie. Graced by vocals from indie rock icon Sharon Van Etten on "Big Swimmer" and "This Wasn't Intentional," the stardust that dances on the album's edges is tangible.

But pursuing dreams is a fickle thing. Reckoning with the vulnerability in this endeavor forms the rolling cadence of Big Swimmer, as Merrick and Whittle bob between the steadfast determination of the titular track ("And if I want it, I'll go / Grab it and never let go"), to getting kicked to the curb in "New York, Let's Do Nothing" ("Oh no / Not another one"), to pondering their very perception of it all in "The Mattress" ("There's a mattress floating / Or is it flying?"). Ultimately, the trust-fall mantra in "Davey Says" becomes their very own "just keep swimming," when Merrick and Whittle ditch the question mark, raise their voices and declare: "Davey says, you've gotta take it slow / But you're gonna make it out of here."

As storytellers, Merrick and Whittle are exceptional at making every breath count. Vowels drag, imagery simmers and the spaces between strums and utterances are ripe with vibrations — infusing these songs with the unshakable feeling that something drastic is always right around the corner. Regardless of what that something is, Merrick and Whittle revere the lessons learned from gaining a new perspective. On Big Swimmer, they embrace the uncertainty of it all with refreshing stamina and poise; letting the forces at play wreak some havoc so that they may reach new ground, transformed.

(City Slang)

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