Before there was Rimarimba, Suffolk-born, Felixstowe-based musician and home recording enthusiast Robert Cox assembled a cast of friends, some musicians and some not so much, for an experiment in group exploration and ecstatic expression under the name The Same. Sonically and gravitationally defined by Cox’s collaboration with guitarist Andy Thomas (a partnership which formed in 1976 to record as General Motors), Sync or Swim, The Same’s one and only album, also featured keyboards by Florence Atkinson and Paul Ridout, and vocals by Robert’s sister Rebecca.
Originally released in small cassette and vinyl quantities on Unlikely Records, Cox’s imprint and a meeting point for many other musicians found at the fringe, the back cover of the original album jacket is as much a map of the personnel, place, and process fundamental to Sync or Swim as it is a table of contents for DIY music-making at the beginning of the 80s: “Recorded in peaceful Wiltshire between September 18th and October 6th 1981 (using a miscellany of home made devices) onto a Teac A-3300SX via a Teac A-3440. No noise reduction systems were used.”
The additional equipment listed – a combination of consumer technology and DIY innovation – speaks to an unpretentious, improvisational ethos that pilots Sync or Swim, and Cox’s career as a whole. Rimarimba, whose near complete discography Freedom To Spend made available again in 2019, showcased Cox’s simultaneously hermetic and prolific creative process, while The Same celebrates making sound for sound’s sake and the serendipity surrounding those moments.
Wiltshire, home to the Stonehenge stone circles and a county of empty plains in the southwest of England, is worlds away from the commerce and industry of Glenn Branca’s New York City or Neu’s Düsseldorf. While The Same may feel in some ways like a British blend of these minimalist and motorik machinations, Cox and Thomas were curiously fascinated with The Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa’s brand of psychedelic music.
Cox’s own definition of British psychedelia is “folk music meeting technology and going bonkers.” It’s by this definition that Sync or Swim takes unexpected forms, from tape-speed tomfoolery, concrète sound collage and analog delayed marimbas, to the colorful spectrum of interwoven guitar play between Cox and Thomas reminiscent of Ghanaian Highlife but more accurately indebted to Jerry Garcia.
On the album’s culminating final track, “E Scapes,” all of these elements are brought together in twenty-minute journey through layers of chiming guitar loops and spritely solos, keyed percussion, and tape experiments, all played as though the sun were rising over the standing stones of Salisbury Plain. Cox would later go to similarly great lengths with certain solo sound endeavors, but the confluence of musicians on “E Scapes” pushes the piece to exceptional, unforgettable heights.
“I can make things, I can make structures, but to make them interesting, I’d always felt I needed other people to come along,” Cox says. “That’s what The Same was. You know Zappa’s line? ‘You lot come in and put the eyebrows on them?’ That essentially is what I persuaded the rest of them to do.”
Transferred and remastered from the original tapes, The Same’s Sync or Swim arrives on LP, on Freedom To Spend, just in time for the album’s 40th anniversary. A limited cassette replication of Felixstowe Rocks, a “compilation” primarily consisting of Robert’s own music under several pseudonyms, will be offered as a mail order exclusive with the release of Sync or Swim. On behalf of Robert Cox, a portion of the proceeds from this release will benefit Waves for Water, who are fighting for access to clean water for all of those who need it.
A1. Set Zero
A2. Hot & Cold
A3. Larruping Shuftly
A4. Auntie Meat
A5. My First Ride In A Metro
A6. Sampled & Held
A7. Sync or Swim
B1. E Scapes