Flint, Michigan four-piece The Swellers deliver their fourth album in Ups and Downsizing. With their late 90’s skate-punk influences worn proudly on their sleeves, what results is 11 relatively solid, if by-the-numbers tracks that conjure images of summertime loves gone sour and teenage frustration in the vein of No Use For A Name with a pinch of Pennywise’s buzzsaw guitars.
Kicking off with the hard-hitting drums of “2009”, hopes are raised for a blistering set of gallop-speed tracks, and this energy is maintained with current single “Fire Away”, though slowing down slightly to facilitate more impact from the twin guitars of Ryan Collins and vocalist Nick Diener.
This album’s weak spot is its foray into hardcore style breakdowns in tracks such as “Feet First” and “The Iron”, only as The Swellers aren’t a hardcore band, these ring hollow and sound about an octave high. It seems bands these days have lost the art of crafting an effective bridge between choruses, and this is unfortunate as the stop/start nature of the songs on this album when changing rhythms does grow irritating after a while, though the rhythms themselves are one of the band’s major strengths.
“Stars” is the token acoustic ballad about being a hopeless romantic (and hopeless musician) and seems a little unnecessary, both to the album and given the current slew of solo albums from the likes of Tony Sly and Joey Cape who, having already paved The Swellers’ pop-punk road for them, are doing this kind of thing much better. When this song finally builds into its full-band crescendo it becomes instantly more listenable, though sadly this subsides back to the song’s minimalist beginnings to end on a low.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with this album. The production is top-notch, Diener’s vocals are in-key and as mentioned, the drumming of brother Jonathan Diener is rock-solid. If you like non-political punk rock, there’s plenty here to like, but very little of it is new and being that this genre has been the staple of the Fat Wreck Chords catalogue for 15+ years, more could have been done to help this album stick out a little. It’s almost certain that there’s a local band in your town that is recording this same album right now, and you’re probably just as well off seeking them out.
© Steve Pass, Music Vice