Since launching few years back, Freedom to Spend - the RVNG offshoot run by Pete Swanson and Jed Bindeman - has made quite a name for themselves. Relying on their incredible knowledge of underground and obscure music, they’ve continuously delved into the shadows of history and come up with pure gold, issuing stunning artefacts by Michele Mercure, Marc Barreca, Pep Llopis, Richard Horowitz, Rimarimba, Tiziano Popoli, Ernest Hood, and others. Never failing to thrill and surprise, now they’re back with the first ever vinyl reissue of The Same’s legendary 1981 LP, Sync or Swim. High among the great holy-grails of '80s British Underground music and one of Robert Cox’s (Rimarimba) most important statements, its minimal and rigorously experimental sounds set the stage for what is easily among the most exciting releases of the year.
Most well-known for his efforts within Rimarimba, whose seminal 4 LPs - 1983’s Below the Horizon, 1984’s On Dry Land, 1985’s In the Woods, and 1988’s Light Metabolism Number Prague - Freedom to Spend reissued back in 2019, Robert Cox first emerged during the late '70s and early '80s in the wilds of Suffolk, England, as a member of various projects (or under alter-egos) like General Motors, Piers of the Realm, and Someone Else. Drawing on the spirit and DIY ethos of punk, Cox traversed an incredibly singular path during this period, with the wild, bedroomy sounds he produced falling somewhere between ambient music, explicit experimentalism, and the industrial avant-gardism of bands like Nurse With Wound.
Formed at the outset of the '80s and releasing their lone LP, Sync or Swim, on Cox’s own Unlikely Records in 1981, The Same laid the groundwork for the unique sound that would later become widely heralded within Rimarimba. Joined by a cast of Cox’s friends from various backgrounds - some musical and some not - the Same included the guitarist Andy Thomas (with whom he began working in 1976 as General Motors), keyboards by Florence Atkinson and Paul Ridout, and vocals by Robert’s sister Rebecca Cox.
Like most of Cox’s output, The Same’s Sync or Swim unfolds like a roadmap toward the heights of possibility opened and achieved by DIY. Venturing into the outright experimental and ecstatic - led by the dulling interventions of Cox and Thomas on “a miscellany of homemade devices” and other instruments - the album captures the band working “in peaceful Wiltshire between September 18th and October 6th 1981” within a series of works that nod to Cox’s own definition of British psychedelia as “folk music meeting technology and going bonkers.”
From incredible and entirely singular tape-speed tomfoolery, concrète sound collage, and analog delayed marimbas, to the colourful spectrum of interwoven guitar play between Cox and Thomas, the album rises as an incredibly playful and visionary form of experimental music operating beyond category and genre, that is completely devoid of pretension and climates across the entire second side with the sprawling twenty-minute journey of chiming guitar loops and solos, keyed percussion, and tape experiments, E Scapes, which draws together all of the elements explored across the album into an astounding whole.
A truly stunning accomplishment and a seminal document of the '80s English Underground from one of its most important figures, it’s impossible to express how happy we are to have The Same’s Sync or Swim back in the mix with its first ever vinyl reissue. Freedom to Spend have done it again with yet another essential offering. Transferred and remastered from the original tapes, just in time for the album’s 40th anniversary, it’s as essential as reissues come.