Brooklyn four-piece Swearin’ released my favourite record of 2012. Their nostalgic approach to recapturing the pop-punk sound of the 80s and 90s – reminiscent of The Descendants and The Breeders – totally swept me away. Last year’s self-titled album was just over thirty minutes of pure energy. It consisted of infectious hooks, raunchy layered guitars, tight, compounded song structures and excellent wordplay from lead singers Alison Crutchfield (sister of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield) and Kyle Gilbride. Its pervasive themes were angst and the future, conveyed with turbulent anger. The album perfectly encapsulated how it feels to be an angry, anxious twenty-something.
On Surfing Strange, Swearin’ sound far more settled and composed. Gone is the energy of the vibrant first LP and ushered in is a more docile approach to songwriting. Their influences for this record are apparent; Swearin’s punk sensibilities are replaced with more of a general 90s indie rock approach. They were definitely spinning a bunch of Pavement and Sonic Youth records when they were recorded this, which isn’t a bad thing!
The first track released off the album, ‘Watered Down’ is a testament to how much the band’s sound has changed. The heavy bass line in combination with the cool, breezy guitar effects create a sound reminiscent of previously mentioned indie deities, Pavement – but sonically the song is unlike anything Swearin’ have released to date. The song flirts with reverting back to a sound reminiscent of something they would have released prior to Surfing Strange with heavy guitar downstrokes after the chorus, only to abruptly end and be replaced with airy guitar effects, a hypnotic bass line, and nasal vocals.
The third track on the album, ‘Mermaid’, begins with a brooding bass line and a sudden, ominous guitar riff. Gilbride speaks slowly over the dark melody channelling Lee Ronaldo from Sonic Youth. Crutchfield begins to croon about halfway through the song, introducing a much needed and polarising melody. The song is darker than anything they have released to date, but it works really well.
The excellent songwriting from the first release also makes its way back onto this album. Both Crutchfield and Gilbride are in fine form. Crutchfield creates really interesting imagery throughout the album, particularly on lead single ‘Dust in the Goldsack’. She sings: ‘Was it fair? / Ash in your long hair / You glare at the crack scene/ now it’s foggy windows’; these lyrics are pretty ambiguous but the word play is interesting and they evoke some seriously gritty images.
Additionally, Keith Spencer, who also serves as bassist in Waxahatchee, contributes his vocals and songwriting abilities to the songs ‘Melanoma’ and ‘Glare of the Sun’. His contribution is refreshing and his vocals sound bizarrely similar to Elliot Smith, a sound totally congruent with the rest of the album and its influences.
Swearin’s sophomore effort is definitely a success. Like so much of indie rock from the last five years it is very much an ode to a time of old. The tunes of this record are less rambunctious, but just as complex and well-written. Their evolution is a very pleasant surprise and I’m itching to hear what is going to come next from this Brooklyn act.