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Swearin’ : Surfing Strange

Had she known there was going to be an “emo revival” in 2013, I dare say my wife would have postponed having a baby to facilitate another couple years of gig-going and tour bus-chasing. Back when she was still my girlfriend, she loved that shit: bands like the Get Up Kids and Dashboard Confessional; bands of boys with side-swept hair and sleeve tattoos and an apparent compulsion to air their dirty laundry in public. It never did much for me though; for the most part (and I have to concede that a couple of albums by Jimmy Eat World and Brand New did eventually end up striking a – minor – chord) I found emo to be self-important, Morrissey-minus-the-humour crap, and whenever we drove anywhere in her car, with her in charge of the stereo, I would find myself yelling angrily at these whining singers, telling them to stop crying over their cheating exes and man the fuck up. Mercifully, then, on their second album Surfing Strange Philly/ NYC quartet Swearin’ – who are often mentioned as major players in the “emo revival” (see also Joie De Vivre, Touche Amore, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, Into It. Over It) – are less concerned with sharing their feelings than they are with recreating the quiet/ loud dynamics and fuzzy, buzzing punk pop rumble generally associated with the genre. Perhaps because they are a couple, primary vocalists Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride don’t really subscribe to the notion of using their lyrics to vent their romantic or sexual frustrations; as Fleetwood Mac or ABBA would attest, writing songs about your other half and then expecting them to sing them rarely works out for the best, regardless of how complimentary – or otherwise – they might be. Instead the pair (and bassist Keith Spencer, who this time around gets to front two songs) tend to bury their words under landslides of guitar crunch and skewed, Pavement-esque riffage, to the point where sometimes all one can actually make out is a pitchy but enthusiastically-yelped melody. Of course, enthusiasm counts for a lot: as anyone who has ever bounced around in a moshpit will tell you, a band that sounds like it’s having a good time equals a good time, and Swearin’ consistently sound like they’re having a ball, encouraging us to pump our fists during the clean parts and whip our hair when they hit their overdrive pedals, urging us to shout along to choruses we don’t know and bringing a warm glow to our hearts when snippets like “Turnpike” and “maladjusted mess” emerge from the fuzz and remind us of The Boss or the bedroom poetry we inevitably wrote as Smiths-worshipping teenagers. But is it really emo? With tracks like “Watered Down“,”Echo Locate” and “Unwanted Place” flipping effortlessly between breezy and brutal, Surfing Strange could just as easily be lumped in with alt-rock icons like the Pixies or Dinosaur Jr. or Guided By Voices; on the other hand, its middling tempos and bittersweet melodies do invite comparisons with Sunny Day Real Estate, the Promise Ring and their ilk, and – although she hasn’t actually said she likes it – the emo authority that is Mrs. Foam Hands hasn’t yet said she hates it either. Perhaps tellingly, the album’s rawest moment, “Loretta’s Flowers”, finds Crutchfield laid bare: “When you get older/ You’ll realise this wasn’t love, it was lust/ Or you won’t, and you’ll remain/ Ignorant and in pain”, she whispers over scratched guitar strings, before concluding “I wanna be there when you decide/ And I want to see what insides look like/ When they feel the way yours do”. It’s a timely reminder that spilling your guts is a messy business, and that emo – when done well – requires bravery and spirit, not cliches and guyliner; thankfully Swearin’ seem to have strong stomachs, and more balls than most.

Surfing Strange is out November 4 via Salinas/ Wichita; listen to opener “Dust In The Gold Sack” below and stream the album over at NPR.

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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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