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“Row Me Away” by Singer/Songwriter Leo Sawikin

Patient strings and harmonies that are the exact opposite of the pressurized noise you’d find almost anywhere on the commercial end of the pop music spectrum dominate the best moments contained within Row Me Away, the new album from Leo Sawikin, but they’re still not the main reason I think this record is going to take off this year.

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Sawikin, as a singer/songwriter rather than the traditional rock frontman a lot of us have come to know him as, is a poignant vocalist who has a lot to express whether he’s belting out a heartfelt lyric or straddling the emptiness between a bassline and the percussion, and he isn’t pulling any punches in Row Me Away. “If I Stayed,” “You Love Too Much,” “Wasting My Whole Life,” “Take What You Want;” the titles of these tracks alone would have us believe that we’re entering a remarkably introspective realm in this LP, but when consumed within a single sitting rather than across several different sit-downs with the complete album, I think they offer up one of the most cutting and honest self-portraits any indie rocker has recorded in 2021. This is a man who won’t and simply can’t withhold from us, and his new release is a testament to his condition. 

Sawikin’s personality is so enmeshed with that of the music that it’s a little difficult to discern where his vocal starts and the gentle chime of the strings end in songs like “Born Too Late” and “Tell Me There’s An Answer.” His harmonies are not nearly as delicate as some of the lyrical confessions he’s making are, but the contrast between the two components strikes out at an uneven juxtaposition that very few alternative musicians on the mainstream level have been willing to experiment in recent memory.

The master mix spotlights attention to detail that I’ve always been fascinated by in The Chordaes’ music, and in the title track, “Golden Days (Far Out At Sea),” and “All Just a Drop,” it’s really hard to witness this play unfold without acknowledging the intricacies Sawikin so skillfully arranges to his advantage. He doesn’t need any big, imposing instrumental elements in “A Whole World Waiting,” “Take What You Want,” or “If I Stayed” – the story these songs assemble is strong on its own without the cosmetic filler to get in the way. 

The Chordaes get a lot of love from the press, and personally, I think that Leo Sawikin and his producer Marc Swersky is the reason why. Listening to an album like Row Me Away makes it obvious how integral he is to any project he’s involved in, and when left to his own devices I think it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have a hard time getting his point across to the listeners, no matter what that point might be. This is a personal record – Row Me Away ends up feeling more balladic than not even when it’s offering us some sizzle in songs like “Golden Days (Far Out At Sea),” and it’s an LP I recommend listening to several times just to really appreciate its grandeur. 

Mindy McCall

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