Swearin´: Surfing strange (Wichita, 2013)


Swearin´tienen una pinta de estudiantes rebotados de alguna facultad de no demasiado renombre. La falta de ganas parece que les hubiera empujado a refugiarse en la música, en las guitarras distorsionadas y en los temas recalcitrantes.
Indudablemente, el revival noventero comenzó hace algún tiempo, y escuchando este segundo trabajo de los neoyorquinos, indudablemente nos topamos de bruces con algunos referentes exactos: Pixies, Breeders, Belly, Throwing Muses… la mejor forma de encuadrarlos en situándonos en los temas más áridos y densos de la banda de Frank Black. Adolecen quizás de algunos de esos temas redondos que aquél era capaz de idear y desarrollar, con los estribillos demoledores a los que nos acostumbraba, pero la música de Swearin´tiene los ingredientes suficientes como para enganchar a oídos ávidos de distorsiones noventeras.

“The second time around, on Surfing Strange, that jubilation is almost gone, though the foursome’s restlessness still persists. But now it’s expanding, to encompass sentiment along with style, too. Their disillusionment feels bleaker here, refocusing on more interpersonal subjects like dissolving relationships and miscommunications; the musical expression of those intimacies has slowed and thickened to accommodate a more square-shouldered approach. “Dust in the Gold Sack” and “Watered Down”, the pair of opening numbers, set the album’s crumbly, emotionally decaying tone. At 4:18, the next song, “Mermaid”, is the longest the band has ever released; it’s also at once their most aggressive and subtle, a mixed style that they wear well, even if it does rely heavily on forbears to accomplish it (the Breeders andPixies are two of their most obvious reference points).
The gang does bring back a number of their strong suits, like arranging vivid settings (“Gold Sack” is great for these, as Crutchfield gazes at “cracks in the ceiling/ Above us” and traverses on Brooklyn streets “Back and forth down Bedford and Nostrand/ You set things in motion”) and setting themselves apart from their peers (“Parts of Speech” could be a biting condemnation of a ratings-obsessed contemporary: “Convoluted you are/ Guarded in fear on the radio/ It’s no wonder/ when you just measure things in numbers”). So don’t worry, these are still your good friends Swearin’, they’ve just become a bit more consumed with their problems. And, for now, it’s a good thing.
While much of the press surrounding Surfing‘s predecessor translated its Crutchfield-heavy sound as part of a larger narrative about the musical split between Allison and her twin sister Katie (the singer-songwriter behind Waxahatchee), this sophomore effort pointedly democratizes, in both form and function. Guitarist Kyle Gilbride and bassist Keith Spencer (especially Spencer, who sings lead for the first time on “Melanoma” and “Glare of the Sun”) make their songwriting presence known by sharing vocal duties more evenly with Crutchfield, establishing the rule that “if you write it, you sing it.” The choice decentralizes (and perhaps dashes somewhat) the expectations Swearin’ fans might have had thanks to the female-fronted promise of the first record, but the delegated duties play as more honest to the group’s reason for being: they work through personal snags simultaneously and together, not at the pleasure of a frontperson.
There isn’t much explicit growth on the record, but where it does express itself is in the development of the players’ technical skills. Drummer Jeff Bolt’s style hasn’t really changed across the two albums, but in this new context, it becomes more textural than punk-loud; and that coarse chord progression that thunks its way pragmatically through their songs’ clever, well-defined melodies has become more idiosyncratic. Sure, it isn’t unique, but Gilbride and Crutchfield do it irresistibly; it defines the band more and more as they progress, and it’s one of their strongest suits, second only to their knack for marrying familiar alt-rock re-interpretations to cuttingly contemporary sentiments.
Surfing contains few of its light-footed predecessor’s punky sparks, so often the recalibrated songs come off a little sludgy and unfocused. “Mermaid”, an earful of definitive, muttering distortion, might seem the obvious example, but the mid-tempo “Echo Locate” and psychedelic, piano-lined “Glare of the Sun” are the bigger culprits. (‘”Echo”, despite its powerful chorus, has an off-puttingly slow start and “Glare,” for better or worse, is Swearin’s take on the Blake Sennett solo number that appears on every Rilo Kiley album.) The catharsis of “Kenosha” or “Crashing” doesn’t live here, and the respite we do get, in a song like “Loretta’s Flowers”—the album’s simplest, loveliest, most affecting cut, about trying to help a loved one who doesn’t want to be saved—drops the record in the other direction, into half-resentful heartbreak. Unlike on Swearin’, there’s little hope for sonic comfort from reality, save perhaps “Young”, a tellingly titled, sprightly love song that despite its optimism seems detached from its LP-mates. But that trudge is the essence of this second round, and in that it’s effective. Surfing takes the disenchanted bits of Swearin’ and blows them out into 34 minutes of honed unrest—it’s a self-aware, deliberate, and ultimately truthful sophomore slump” (Pitchfork)

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