Hemlock for Socrates is a Pittsburgh duo whose music features operatic vocals set against a backdrop of off-kilter synthpop.
“Swarm,” a track from the band’s newly released paper animals, sounds like the kind of thing one might have heard sung, in some form or another, in a swanky jazz joint back in the ’30s. Heather Shore’s vocals quiver with a sensuous warmth, and the instrumental’s meandering keystrokes are those of a lounge piano scaled down and converted to MIDI. Shore tells the story of a fleeting, ambiguous extramarital encounter in painfully intimate detail (“I thought this was something neither of us had ever wanted/But it was inevitable, like a reflex”), the music surging and blooming around her as she repeats, “We hovered,” in an echoing falsetto. The potential ramifications become apparent when the person’s spouse comes downstairs with their child; as Shore observes, heartbreakingly, “I watched you face him/Halfway up the stairs/He wasn’t looking at you/But at your daughter.” The song’s distilled drift and its vivid lyrical detail give it the feel of a semi-lucid daydream, a fated slip happening in slow motion. Its six minutes pass in a heartbeat.