HEY! Get updates to this and the CD and 7" blogs via Twitter: @VinylUnderbite

1 March 2016

Andrew Graham's Swarming Branch - 'Classic Glass' (Tonk)

This is one hell of a sound sound, and it warms my heart that there's a gang of youngsters in Columbus, Ohio making music like this. Do you like Tin Pan Alley, musical cabaret and a Harry Nilsson/Van Dyke Parks vibe? But also fuzzy, jammy indie rock with psychedelic riffs galore? This might be for you, and I can guess this might be a love-it-or-hate it aesthetic; it's about as far from macho posturing as I can imagine while still being 'rock' music, yet to me this doesn't sound affected, even though Graham's singing technique is a bit like the guy from Cockey Rebel crossed with Basement Tapes-era Dylan. As the band name indicates, Mr. Graham is the singer-songwriter behind the Swarming Branch, but keyboardist Dane Terry (creator of a a fantastic solo album we'll get to, one day) is a pretty strong presence, and the bright, springy drums of Sean Leary aren't to be overlooked. This trio makes up the core, I guess, but there's guest musicians galore, including three 'lead guitar' players, obviously not found on every track. It's a bit messy to unravel but it doesn't really matter, because it sounds like a BAND. Their self-administered label is called Tonk and the concept of the honky-tonk rears its head from the majestic/shambolic opening cut ('That Constant Country Thirst') and lyrically in the amazingly cryptic and simultaneously anthemic 'Holy Joeys, Cognoscenti, Tar Babies In Love'. But I wonder what honky-tonk even means to them? There's hints of Nashville in places, sure, such as the slide guitars on 'The New Age Succuba, Susie Jean', but everything feels warped as hell -- and not through a druggy or surrealist haze. It's actually a really hard aesthetic to put a finger on, but it's one that feels confident and open at the same time. The rising and falling guitars and keyboard lines are occasionally chillingly beautiful; 'The Pounce' is as close as this record comes to a ballad, and it wears its heart on its sleeve. And sometimes it just drives straight ahead in the way that rock and roll does best. The high point of the album (and of music overall for the past few years, to these ears) may be the medley of 'This Water Does Not Reach The River' and 'I Warn You' that ends side 1. The first of these is a manic, high-energy stomper and the latter a 4/4 mid-tempo dirge that has some simple, yet stunning interplay between the instruments that makes this feel like a genius chipping away at a rock to reveal some sculpture. When Swarming Branch fall into these more straight-forward moments, it's incredibly satisfying; besides 'I Warn You's powerful punch, 'Final Boss' feels practically like a stadium-rock song, with a relentless pounding on the piano, some synth creepage courtesy of Ryan Jewell, and Graham's irrepressible voice soaring over it all. It crashes to an epic finish and effectively ends the record as the last track is an electro-pop oddity by a guest artist - a strange choice, but this record is a bouquet of strange choices, really, which all gel together to make some odd sense. I am more excited to hear what they do next than I am about just about anyone else actively making music today.

No comments:

Post a Comment