Fast-rising noise-poppers Swearin’, Philadelphia’s most exciting export since spreadable cheese, have amassed something of a clamour over the last couple of years. Their self-titled debut album of last year presented a surprisingly comfortable marriage of sun-kissed pop hooks and unapologetic guitar squalls; we should look in particular at the sweetly infectious vocal refrain of ‘Kenosha’ measured against the battering hardcore racket of ‘Kill ‘em with Kindness’. In fact, the very juxtaposition in this latter track’s title provides us with a microcosm of Swearin’ themselves; one foot in sweet melody and harmony, and yet unafraid of exploring their wilder side.
The debut was twelve tracks of almost relentlessly uplifting summer listening; you even found yourself humming along to the distinct minority of downbeat tunes on the LP. However, the next step in Swearin’s journey, produced at breakneck speed, represents a considerable departure from their early template. The promise made in the album’s press release that Surfing Strange would be ‘a bit heavier’ than its predecessor is not only delivered upon, but exceeded; throughout, the drums pack more punch and the guitar sounds are bigger, their effects ranging from unadorned clean to almost overwhelming levels of distortion. However, the far more noticeable difference is in the tempo and feel of the songs; the debut’s minority of downbeat tracks have become a distinct majority. Surfing Strange marks a period of expansion and transition for Swearin’, and yet it’s fair to speculate that their sudden change in direction may be too much too soon.
A notable exception is debut single and opening track,’Dust ln The Gold Sack’; instantly the poppy hooks and surf-punk beats of the debut album are recalled. However, the addition of acoustic guitar shimmering beneath the distorted riffs adds a welcome expansion to the bands’ sound; rather than the meat-and-potatoes punk which informed their early work, Bug-era Dinosaur Jr. looms large as an influence. In addition, although frontwoman Alison Crutchfield remains very much the centrepiece (see the wonderful ‘Loretta’s Flowers’ if you don’t believe me), guitarist Kyle Gilbride is allowed to shine far more on second track ‘Watered Down’, unveiling a nasal, slacker whine which complements the band’s more subdued direction perfectly.
However, the fact remains that the band’s sudden transition from summery pop-punk to a more lo-fi, some might say depressing, soundscape, will alienate some of their earlier fans. While laudable for their boldness, the same kids who moshed to the likes of ‘Crashing’ may be nonplussed by tracks such as ‘Melanoma’, which jumps from sparse, unaccompanied clean tone to a monstrous guitar noise. However, being purely reactionary would not do this album justice; ‘Glare of the Sun’, in particular, shows the creative potential of drummer Jeff Bolt as never before; the four-to-the-floor beats are discarded in favour of a skittering sixteenth-note rhythm. Surfing Strange, therefore, truly speaks of the boldness of a young band unafraid to break their mold; enough hallmarks of their earlier foray remain, and yet, with mixed results, we see transition.
Download: ‘Dust in the Gold Sack’, ‘Glare of the Sun’