There’s something grand and achy in the big sound of the London duo Big Deal—it bursts with movement and purpose on the one hand, serves up an undercurrent of delicious melancholy on the other. This may be rooted in something as simple and structural as the song-length use of octave male-female harmonies/lead vocals. My love for octave harmonies (i.e., the same note sung an octave apart) is long established; when they come in the guise of a lead vocal shared by a man and a woman, it’s a yummy treat times two (or three, or four; not sure math works here, actually). The fact that the harmonies culminate in the repeated line, each time the chorus comes around, “I will, I will” seals the deal: I can’t follow the song lyrically, but that “I will, I will” is an arresting aural paradox—hopeful on the surface, desperate below.
And give me a simple song, tightly conceived, over a sprawling complexity any day of the week. Or, at least, some days. “Swapping Spit” has so much happening within its apparent rock’n’roll simplicity that I listen to it over and over without tiring. The male-female octave harmonies turn out to be a perfect metaphor for the effectiveness of the entire song—it’s the same note being sung (simple) but an octave apart (complication) and by opposing genders (further complication). And so do we also in “Swapping Spit” get: a verse that has two different versions (a lower melody the first time [0:16], a higher melody the second time [1:19], and boy do I love the character of both voices in their combined upper ranges); a chorus that first of all has a pre-chorus and then, the second time around, has expanded versions of both the pre-chorus and the regular chorus; and then, slyly, a song that places its title into the extended part of the chorus. And as for that title, it too offers up compelling equivocation, as Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood sing words—“All the lovers swapping spit/I’ll get used to it”—that mess with our heads. Love (good thing? bad thing?) comes up as one more arresting paradox.
“Swapping Spit” is a new single upcoming from Big Deal’s second album, June Gloom, which was in fact released back in June, on Mute Records.