Jazz, soul, and indie rock impressionist Christelle Bofale released their debut EP, “Swim Team” on May 31, 2019. The band on the EP consists of Bofale on vocals, lyrics and guitar, Jake Smith on additional guitar, Dan Duszynski on production, Billy Hickey on drums and John Bergin on bass.
Bofale boasts a cutthroat connection between their heart and their pen. Each lyric, power chord and drum fill on “Swim Team” places another domino in its unfurling, 26-minute album length. While brief, it still plays like an album. The emotional depths Bofale reaches here blossom in their poignancy — hence the title “Swim Team.”
The EP’s depth also comes with a sense of breadth. Bofale grew up on a myriad of different genres, ranging from traditional Congolese music to church hymns to the works of Joni Mitchell. Their soft spot for slow-rock and shoegaze aesthetics shines through as well. These influences are heard across “Swim Team”: washes of guitar combine with neo-soul grooves to construct immersive, enrapturing and euphoric soundscapes.
Take the introduction “Moving On, Getting On,” for example. A tense but warm chord progression combines with pointed vocals and haunting guitars to usher the listener into the depths of this EP. Upon the climax of the track, drums enter the mix, crashing and banging, much like Bofale’s beckoning hums and runs.
Rather than a standalone song, “Moving On, Getting On” is much more comparable to a prologue, showcasing the different flavors and licks the listener will get across the next four tracks. Its guitar solo and faded outro transition into the equally meditative “Love Lived Here Once.”
My favorite part about this song is its beginning: the reverbs utilized on the guitars, the spacious effects added to the synths, the subtly organic textures that pepper in on occasion. Again, it sets the tone perfectly for the raging chorus of this track.
“Tear away at my warm paper skin / And make way for the history within / Love lived here once” Bofale sings after the minute and thirty second intro. I am especially impressed by the contrast here musically. The angular bass on the chorus contrasts beautifully against the stripped-down natures of the verses. It allows the last chorus after the quainter bridge to explode in angst.
“Origami Dreams” folds in on this angst, deviating slightly from the jazz structures Bofale engaged in earlier on the EP. In its place is a raging pop-rock anthem. Of course, some spicy chords make their way in the mix, as well a half-time groove here and there on the pre-chorus.
Lyrically, Bofale is at their most conceptual here, featuring some clever word play — “Paper only floats for so long / All I’ve got to say is so long” — and more explicit narrative — “Origami dreams of mine, I guess that they weren’t real.” While it is fairly juvenile and not as explorative as other cuts here, it’s a fun moment that keeps the listener intrigued with “Swim Team.” It also sets the stage beautifully for the next track.
“U Ouchea” displays everything that makes Bofale an act to savor. It’s a seven-minute odyssey through jazz- and soul-inspired chords, washes of guitar and bass, incredible lyrics and melody (“You’re out here / Tightropin’ / Should’ve left that to the acrobats”), and, most importantly, raw, unfettered emotion.
The outro of this centerpiece is my favorite moment from the entire EP. The sheer power that comes through Bofale’s voice is unmatched for a debut release. Around the six-minute mark of the track comes a series of chord resolutions and melodies that give me goosebumps every time. Truly, it’s a defining moment for “Swim Team” and Bofale themself.
“Where to Go” closes things where they began. It’s another expansive soul-rock cut, featuring an incredible melody that weaves beautifully with the Lydian structures used. Bofale again proves their musicianship here, having a knack for Joni Mitchell “Hejira”-era chords and impeccable sense of song progression.
Lyrically, Bofale closes things out on a question mark: “I am lost out here.” In the depths they dived into on this EP, I’m not surprised that upon resurfacing, they might not know “Where to Go.” If this were an album, I’m sure they would explore that avenue — but of course, we only have these five tracks.
This highlights one of my few criticisms of the project. Each song exists in its own little universe, which makes this such a magical listen; however, I would love to see some more continuity and fleshed out narrative from the poetry Bofale delivers. It slips through the listener’s fingers almost too easily, but maybe that is why it is such a transcendental listening experience. Aside from that, “Swim Team” deserves an ear, especially for how incredible of a debut it is.