A newness in Tenci’s sound unveils in “Vanishing Coin” with upbeat immediacy, adding onto their unique changing rhythms. Shoman’s soft and trilling vocals fuel the song’s imagery as a friendship vanishes and another well appears. The wish from the tossed fountain coin never comes to fruition, as the instruments stab in and out, “a forgotten push pin.” “Two Cups” continues this threshold between the folk and rock genres, as a tough and sweet guitar solo converses, “I won’t wait,” fizzling towards freedom. Unlike a public fountain, a personal cup can be filled on your own terms towards abundance.
Like a magic trick, all of this fullness evolved from jotted writing in Shoman’s journal. The notebook’s cover is made from a repurposed children’s book titled “Great Big Elephant.” Shoman’s own writing often feels like a nursery rhyme, a naming of animals and clowns under your bed, a recipe for understanding life.
The intimacy in A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing can be vulnerable but subtle, like a whispered conversation between two new lovers costumed as a joke: “knock knock I’m the best you’ve ever had, I can’t believe you, is that sad?” As Shoman describes their out of body experience of going through monthly pain and depression, watching their soul from afar, the guitar dances and flakes around the song’s room, too. There’s a calm command of time passing, of knowing the body can be pinched and woken into new realities.
Shoman explains the song idea for “The Ball Spins” as “watching the ball spin as in the world, but also as mundane as a ball on the ground. The world burns with so much sadness and destruction and I am witnessing it in a very desensitized way.” Living during a time of an ongoing viral plague, dangerous nationalism, and climate change, to name a few, can feel so painful, it’s numbing. Tenci attempts to create art out of that metaphorical car on fire outside. Instead of disassociating, we can latch onto their minimalist song structure with cyclical words (“spin, break, safe, warm, closed”), repeated together like communal care.
Just as the band name Tenci comes from Shoman’s grandmother Hortencia, the legacy of family burns its importance in the album. “Swallow Me Whole, Blue” comes from their mom’s memory of her childhood dog, Blue, who was poisoned by the neighborhood kids: “they threw a poison bone / it cast a spell on you.” The family lore acts as a warning, or a warbling call to the dog ghost. Perhaps Shoman’s longing to protect and know Blue is the same longing to protect their family’s memories. The album ends here: in a bare folk song of Shoman, their guitar, and their memories, echoed by the audio of an old family video. The voices of parents, grandparents, and children filter in and out, fuzzy against the assertion of a “crystal clear picture.” “Memories” captures the feeling of “knowing that at the end of your life, you will have your memories to fill your heart,” Shoman says.
On their second album, Tenci has traveled to a deeper place of compositional and lyrical complexity, like a spout that leads to a restorative lake. A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing ends on the words “sweet relief” floating down the tunnel of the future.