Impressive first outing from Manchester based band pushing the boundaries of americana.
The Swells are a Manchester based band that operate largely as a platform for the talents of principle writer and lead vocalist Matt Grayson. Initially conceived as an album project whilst Grayson was still with previous band Walton Hesse, the band now also boasts members of The Boo Radleys and Jane Weaver’s band and had begun to perform live prior to the pandemic, coming to AUK’s attention via an impressive support slot with GospelbeacH.
Musically, ‘Pets’, their debut album, integrates elements of melodic psych-pop with Wilco-like experimental americana plus a healthy dose of indie fuzz. The result is an album that picks up Grayson’s influences, absorbs them, and then places them down again intertwined into a fine mosaic that also incorporates his own musical creativity and some deeply personal songs. Whilst each of those songs stands up individually, it is as a whole that the album really impresses. An album of such differing textures and varying tempo can easily fall into the trap of sounding disjointed and uneven but to the contrary ‘Pets’ excites, challenges and holds together as a bold and exhilarating body of work.
Grayson describes his lyrics as “just flows of consciousness, imagery”. However, they are often more specific than that. ‘A Daughter, A Dog’ arguably the album’s highpoint, contrasts previous dark times with domestic contentment, conscious that those dark times still lurk in the shadows. ‘Suburban Tides’ speaks of acid trips during school holidays in suburban Stockport, whilst ‘Control the Dark’ reflects on the death of Grayson’s grandma. He explains “The song was written before she died, but with the knowledge that it was coming. It tries to put a positive spin on something so inevitable and out of our control. Musically the long drone ending is supposed to represent a transition, the bit where we stop being a human being and move onto something else”. Grayson uses his themes to explore ideas both lyrically and musically so that each works in tandem with the other to create a completed picture.
‘Pets’ is not mainstream, but those readers of this site who enjoy the more leftfield, creative, indie end of the americana spectrum, really should make it their business to give it a listen.