Learning To Swim On Empty


South London's Wu-Lu releases first EP since debut LOGGERHEAD and retreats even further into his interior life, while pessimism and optimism are locked in fierce battle, says Arusa Qureshi

There’s an overwhelming feeling of emptiness that many of us can relate to at the moment – a feeling that weighs heavily in the context of surrounding events, becoming our everyday experience. It’s somewhat normal to be furious yet numb; profoundly sad yet totally void of the appropriate response mechanisms. In both the title and contents of his new EP, South London vocalist and musician Wu-Lu has managed to capture this emptiness, as well as the corresponding impulse to push through and find something to grasp firmly with both hands. Learning To Swim On Empty is intimate in its writing but the recurring motif of water and of drowning and floating which runs throughout makes it a record that holds both listener and artist close, in a compelling way. 

Opener ‘Young Swimmer’ demonstrates this aptly with its gentle, repetitive keys, conjuring an image of stones being skimmed across a wide body of water. ‘Daylight Song’, the EP’s first single, picks up the pace but has a quiet, yearning quality, brought out in the track’s layering, which we hear again in the harmonies of ‘Blunted Strings’. ‘Sinner’ is more bass-heavy and sonically experimental, with affecting lyrics like “I steam like the water / When you hold me down / I’ll see you at the altar / To take you out” – which casually bury their way into your psyche. Then there’s the majestic, expansive strings on ‘Mount Ash’ and ‘Last Night With You’, the latter of which could sit comfortably on the soundtrack to a film that aims to leave you with some semblance of hope. It matches something that Wu-Lu himself has said about the wider EP: “Everyone has lived a life before and after our loved ones, so this is where I’ve been and where I’m going for now. Life throws us in the water all the time but always know that it’s a myth that we can’t swim – keep pushing.” 

As the first new Wu-Lu material to be released since 2022’s exciting debut LOGGERHEAD, Learning To Swim On Empty naturally shows progression in terms of the artist’s ability to connect varying puzzle pieces to amplify both sound and vision. But where the debut focused on the dichotomy between the internal and external voice, this new EP takes a step inward to explore more personal territory. Bookended by spoken word contributions from poet Rohan Ayinde and former young people’s laureate for London Caleb Femi on meditative finale ‘Crow’s Nest’, the seven-track record plays out like bite size diary entries, penned by someone determined to keep their head above the water and to remind us all to do the same.

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