Washington, DC's Beautiful Swimmers—the collaborative project of Andrew Field-Pickering (a.k.a. Maxmillion Dunbar) and Ari Goldman—doesn't show much interest in sounding contemporary; the duo's first album, Son, often feels like it's filling in a gap in our musical memory. These are irrepressible, upbeat, beach-volleyball-with-friends vibrations in an era when a celebratory spirit is often a hard sell. Over the course of the LP, the pair occasionally flirts with the puckish vibes of something as ingrained as James Ferraro's Far Side Virtual, but there's always some indication of authentic joy to ground the flow of mental images. The previously released "Swimmers Groove" opens like a high-school basketball team running onto the court in slow motion and raises the stakes on the generously funky main groove, which could be the soundtrack for a montage of power lunches. "Running Over" pans across glinting waves dotted with windsurfers. But this isn't the TV Carnage Balearic mixtape, as much of the music calls for white wine and a spliff.
Gobsmacking ambient track "Gettysburg" aside, the new material on Son doesn't really expand on the sound established by early Beautiful Swimmers singles "Big Coast" and "Swimmers Groove." Those cuts remain the energetic high points of the album, although "Cool Disco Dan" is an insistent grower. Over the course of the LP, the pair doesn't outwardly surpass those cuts, but Beautiful Swimmers nonetheless find traction by focusing on deepening their sound. Even in the context of a resurgent American dance underground, the duo doesn't sound like anyone else. The drum-machine workout that is "Dream Track" might be Beautiful Swimmers auditioning for the Workshop label—"I cannot distinguish between my programmed dreams and reality. One creates the other," an android intones over spare and psychedelic accompaniment. And then there's "Gettysburg," which comes across like some sort of Flying Saucer Attack–Enya confab.
And still, "Big Coast" looms so large that, in a way, it's easy to miss that inescapably involving energy elsewhere on the LP. Still, even the album's longest and least outwardly impressive track, "Spezi," has a powerful undertow throughout its nearly nine-minute course. In the end, Son offers a kind of sentimental education in appreciating Beautiful Swimmers. "The most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a waterbed at the same time," says "Cool Disco Dan"'s follow-up "Joyride," and after listening to Beautiful Swimmers in a full-length format, it's hard to argue with the sentiment.
The buddy-house vibes of Son come on gently but persistently, and over time are the equal of Maxmillion Dunbar's House of Woo, another slow-burning high point of the year. As a rule, Son is an understated record, even though the sounds it uses are frequently as obvious as they are sublime. The LP's ingrained funk represents for DC as a melting pot of genres and a place ruled by good times. Beyond that, Son takes the time to establish a commitment to boogie that is much more than skin deep. With so much dance music opting for a straightforward 4/4 pulse, Beautiful Swimmers' up-front cheer and weighty syncopation differentiates the producers from their contemporaries—but never in a competitive way.