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  • Giavanna Gradaille

Review: "You Look Like You Can't Swim" - Matilda Mann

Not Waving but Drowning is a poem written by Stevie Smith, and was published in 1957. The poem details the event of a drowning man whose erratic arm movements are mistaken as enthusiastic waving by observers occupying the same space. The poem is told through a shifting first and third-person perspective. Symbolically, Not Waving but Drowning is a testament of one’s identity in double perspective: the stark contrast of outward appearance and the inner self. In their latest single, “You Look Like You Can’t Swim”, Matilda Mann explores this contrast from an opposing stance. “You Look Like You Can’t Swim” is a parable of how public perception and input breeds a self-esteem soaked in self-doubt.

“You Look Like You Can't Swim” centers on being your own worst critic; to the extent that we unconsciously force ourselves to live in uncertainty and indecision. The song opens with inviting acoustic strings as our artist delivers the first verse, while viewers of the music video see Mann anxiously staring out at the vast ocean before them. This music video is also our artist's formalistic, debut directorial. Within this opening verse, Mann provides rich imagery that loans insight on the effects of harsh self-criticism. The first two lines are: “I used to be the fish that lives inside a tank. These days I seem to be a morsel made of sand.” When living within a tank, you’re put on public display and left to internalize the external remarks made about you. Eventually, the weight of this grinds your self-worth down into grains of sand. This not only distorts our self-perception but makes us dependent on the reassurance of others even when we find ourselves beyond the fish tank with plenty of “space” – an idea our artist touches on in the second verse. In the music video, the lullaby sung chorus sees to this imagery’s manifestation. As sweeping violin strings join the acoustic melody, Mann jumps into a pool with a lifeguard nearby. While the weight of the water sinks our artist to the bottom of the pool, they have visions of the ocean floor with fish surrounding them before being pulled out by the lifeguard. This marks a change in attitude, though: they’ve been “a fish … who can’t swim” for "too long". What ensues henceforth in the symmetrical-focused, vibrant music video (that makes one wonder if Mann was ever Wes Anderson’s protégé), is the determination to "swim". Our artist admits in the third verse that this new-found determination makes them feel like they’re “running on a moving pavement in reverse”, but instead of putting themselves down they rationalize it as “overthinking”. Showcasing that with conscious effort, we can distance ourselves from self-doubt. And in time, we’ll not only “swim away” confidently but won’t rely on others reassurance in moments of uncertainty.

Matilda Mann is a London-based singer and songwriter with a very bright future in music. With continual support from popular radio stations and magazines (domestically and abroad), it’s not hard to see that the artist possesses a talent that needs to be shared. Mann’s discography is a collection of genre-bending, acoustic-driven songs that make listeners envision themselves in movies like Asteroid City and The Darjeeling Limited. “You Look Like You Can’t Swim” is the last single featured on their third EP that shares the same title. Mann’s recent EP sees the sweet embrace of tranquility and vulnerability in the same breath – reflecting the astounding inner peace we all strive for. Fans attending the sold-out Kendall Calling festival in Penrith, U.K. next week on July 27th, will have the opportunity to see our artist live in the Calling Out tent. But if you're missing out, you’ve got a second chance to see Mann perform for Live At Leeds In The City: 2023 on October 14th. In the meantime, the best way to support the inspiring artist's build-up to their first album is through virtual love in the form of streams, likes, and follows.

Written by Giavanna Gradaille



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