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Producer Arthur Caplan returns with a strong, dreamy pop collaboration

“Swimming In East River” launches an ongoing series of tracks developed over Zoom.

“Clutch,” a collaborative track between Madison-based musician Arthur Caplan and Chicago vocalist Noah Sims, served as a memorable introduction to Caplan’s work as a producer last fall. Caplan, a recent high school graduate heading off to college in the fall, had been mostly known for drumming in various projects up to that point. Ultimately, “Clutch” wound up being one of the best odds and ends we came across from Madison musicians in 2020. 

Now, Caplan has returned with another collaboration, teaming up with Austin-based musician Noah Levine, who here appears under the solo moniker of Noah In The Open, for a new series of tracks the duo are collaborating on over Zoom calls. “Swimming In East River,” the first installment of the series, is a slyly warped ambient pop track that demonstrates the duo’s innate understanding of both musical texture and dynamics.

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Caplan and Levine coexist comfortably on the track, attributing the familiarity that comes through “Swimming In East River” to years of friendship and admiration for each other’s work. The pair tell me (appropriately, over Zoom) that they attended the same summer camp several years ago and have kept in touch ever since. On the track, Levine’s unabashedly sultry instincts provide a natural complement for Caplan’s fluid, dreamlike production aesthetic. “Swimming In East River” would feel perfectly at home in a prestige perfume ad. 

Caplan says that the idea for the song’s title, fittingly, came to him in a dream, which was likely influenced by his recent acceptance to NYU’s Clive Davis Institute, where he’ll be pursuing a BFA in recorded music. Caplan also handled the visual art for the track, which is an interpretation of the dream.

“I just got so much on my mind / I’m tryin’ to use my card since it’s been declined / And it’s been weeks since I took the time to work on me / as the tensions rise like mercury,” goes the song’s opening verse. Caplan and Levine, who wrote the lyrics together and trade off vocal duties, invest the song with a sense of wide-eyed wonder that it retains even as it descends into sporadic bouts of subtle self-deprecation. 

In all, “Swimming In East River” is a far cry from the pent-up, quarantine-induced frustration that ultimately served as the foundation of the entire project. There’s an ease to the track that amplifies both Caplan and Levine’s respective charms quite nicely, allowing “Swimming In East River” to exude a casual grace. Getting it to that point without being able to work together in person required a bit of ingenuity and a lot of trust. 

“Swimming In East River” was largely developed by way of screen sharing—Caplan mixed the track in Ableton and Levine worked on his contributions through Logic. Developing the track over Zoom seems to have been a relatively smooth process overall, but it did present some occasional difficulties. Apart from latency issues that make true real-time collaboration nightmarish for musicians, they realized their differences in respective styles were causing some rifts that could be bridged. This made the collaboration a healthy challenge for both musicians, and they both worked towards compromises to make their styles mesh and evolve. “Swimming In East River” marks a solid promise that this series of collaborative efforts, which aims to produce a new track around once a month, will reward those who decide to follow along.

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