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Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Salinas)

Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
4 November 2013

If Allison and Katie Crutchfield are the Kelley and Kim Deal of today, then Swearin’ is the Kelley Deal 6000 to Waxahatchee’s Breeders, though I’d say that in this case Allison’s band has a fairer chance of matching the current popularity of her sister Katie’s band. But it’s not really a competition – their kindred music says they’re only enabled to make it because they have each other. There hasn’t been an indie rock sibling love story so moving in years, at least in my mind. Surfing Strange, the second album by Swearin’, starts with the crisp chords of Waxahatchee’s latest Cerulean Salt, but soon adds a level of noise that album didn’t attempt, even if the killer chorus (“cracks in the ceiling / above us”) ends up worthy of it. Allison’s rejoicing in Katie’s success, right, or just embracing new lows with reckless enthusiasm?

So far, so crunchy, but there’s more. The surprising and impressive variety of Surfing Strange (studio wizardry, sort of, on “Glare of the Sun”?) comes from a different place than Cerulean Salt’s. The latter featured imaginative full band arrangements of songs that could’ve formed a solitary, acoustic set, while Surfing is the more chaotic work of a true band (now with three songwriters; Kyle Gilbride sings his songs and adds a particularly enlivening miserable twang), the kind whose publicity photos show them hanging out and acting weird. They’re a co-ed taking-stock-of-your-20s type of group (sample lyric: “When you get older you’ll realize what this was”; sample title: “Young”) in the style of 90s forebears like Versus (“I doubt I could ever hold a serious job”) or Sleepyhead (“Don’t tell me I won’t grow up…”). And they’re not just taking stock but also living it—emphasis on the living. Waxahatchee’s lyrics lean more toward reflection, and they’re so good at that, they’re inherently interesting, not just relatable autobiography but objects worthy of study. Swearin’ doesn’t have that in such spades, but neither do they need us to identify with the thickness they’re in. They write themselves, with sound more than with illuminating words, but in a classic way that should make them approachable as either soundtrack or, for the disillusioned listener, text.

Sample text for consideration: track three, “Mermaid,” so cool I could cry. It’s almost impossible to tell if it’s an instrumental track with a monotone male voice adding extraneous chatter, or if those are real verses so smothered by noise and riffs (to an unprecedented degree) that the guitars only accidentally carry the song. Later, Crutchfield’s audible (shocking!) vocals clarify: it’s verse-chorus, but anything that might’ve sounded ordinary here is upended by the brutal mix. Before Crutchfield’s chorus, the male voice says one thing with a bit of clarity before it sputters out: “Life is cheap.” But no, life among this band is unhappy and precious, down when it should be up and up when it should be down, and they’ll let you ride along or just watch.