Back in the late 80s/early 90s there was this thing called indie rock. It was not mainstream, polished or particularly poppy. Typically it was noisy, adventurous, DIY productions with insightful lyrics and experimental sonics.
Bands like Pavement, The Pixies, Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, and Archers of Loaf, played deep, dynamic, racous, exhilarating music. Then Nirvana got huge, then Modest Mouse, then The Strokes, then every band with loud, jangly guitars and unrefined vocals.
This proliferation of “indie music” flooded the mainstream with a once cult style resulting in, as Andrew Harrison of “The Word” put it, an “indie landfill.” However, amongst the vast abyss that is contemporary indie music, occasionally a band emerges that truly encapsulates the ethos of classic indie rock.
“Surfing Strange,” the upcoming album by Swearin’, due on Nov. 4, sounds something like a long-lost Pavement LP, or perhaps an early Sub Pop sampler cassette. In a world where “indie rock” is almost a cliche, Swearin’ exude the characteristics of the old guard.
Guitars are noisy, jagged, and a little sloppy. Drums drive, pounding out simple rhythms. Lyrics are vaguely catchy, prompting spirited sing-a-longs, while also being self-reflective and perspicacious.
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Allison Crutchfield, the band’s 23-year-old founder, is a dead ringer for That Dog’s Anna Waronker, and she has a knack for delivering poignant lines at just the right time. For example, about 16 seconds into album opener, “Dust in the Gold Sack,” Crutchfield sings, “the crunch of the black ice and the buzz of the semis,” just as a wall of distortion crashes through the speakers. Co-frontperson Kyle Gilbride is just as adept at dropping well-timed lyrics, and his pitchy vocals have the trappings of a young Stephen Malkmus.
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Most importantly, though this record does sound good, the final cut has that rough-around-the-edges aesthetic that defined quintessential indie rock. The vibe is way more garage than studio, which adds to its charm.
“Surfing Strange” is a great album. It has the dynamics of The Pixies, the wittiness of Pavement, the immediacy of Hüsker Dü, in fact, the one drawback of this album: it’s too short.