Are we really that old already?
The Swellers’ new album Good For Me is a top-notch blend of older and newer pop-punk/alternative stylings, but with an added sense of nostalgic homage to the late 1990s that demonstrates that we’ve apparently reached the point where bands refer to that decade with a degree of melancholy and fond memories. Hey, fellow twentysomething music bloggers: we’re getting old.
Album opener Runaway kicks things off with an energetic guitar and drum burst, leading into an upbeat verse with vocalist Nick Diener saying I don’t feel like myself anymore/I need to get out of this room today. Swellers fans familiar with their previous two albums may have found this opening track jarring, as the band seems to have embraced a more straightforward and catchy sound than the rawer tunes on 2009’s breakout album Ups and Downsizing. Runaway is a great introduction to the record, which is full of memorable songs that cast a fond look back to the past.
Inside My Head finds the band channeling both Motion City Soundtrack and Jimmy Eat World. The MCS-like synth and JEW-esque chorus help the song stand out, as it manages to sound like both those bands without sounding like a knockoff. The Swellers are creating their own unique sound using the influence of bands like those two, and it pays off incredibly well. The one-two punch of Runaway and Inside My Head give the album a great opening sequence that leads into The Damage, which starts off a bit slower, allowing Diener’s scruffy voice to take over. The guitar work on this one requires discussion, as both Diener and Ryan Collins alternate between distorted riffage and softer, more melodic notes seamlessly. Some great backup vocals help the bridge shine (something that happens throughout the album).
Parkview keeps the energy going, with Diener expressing that sort of twentysomething layabout boredom that is all too familiar to many of us: It's been four years/And I still don't know what I'm doing here/My friends settled down/And all I do when I'm home is sleep in. The song has a peppy chorus with the narrator lamenting about shoveling snow, being paralyzed and not standing up for himself. Paired with the upbeat music which ultimately leads to some wonderfully melodic background vocals at the very end, the song is a great lead in to the album’s biggest highlight, The Best I Ever Had.
The Best I Ever Had gives me the same sense of nostalgia and melancholic vibe that The Ataris’ In This Diary did back in 2003, but without that tune’s cheesiness. I remember April '94/September '96/And every day of '99 (all of '99)/Whether I waited for those records/Or helped Seattle cry/It was the best I ever had/And I know we'll never die Diener cries, expressing a fond adoration of the songs that shaped his life all those years ago. He later sings about planning his escape from the suit-and-tie lifestyle that eventually plagued so many of his friends (and everyone else's).
It’s something that people my age (read: mid-twenties) can instantly relate to, but it’s approached in a much more enjoyable, wistful fashion than most songs that play the “Oh, I miss being a kid!” card so heavy-handedly. The song is becoming a favorite among the AbsolutePunk crowd, and rightly so.
Better Things begins with some acoustic strumming and Diener talking about being on the way to bigger things, before the song explodes into an irresistible chorus, buoyed by a driving rhythm and chord progression. Lyrically, it’s a confident tune with a slight bitterness about the target of the song, with Diener saying I guess you wouldn’t know since you’re not here, but also wishing her (or him) well. Musically, it’s one of Good For Me’s best songs, fully demonstrating how well the Swellers can do the rock/pop thing.
The grungy guitars of On the Line wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foo Fighters record. The buzzy chords give it a dark energy that carries throughout its 3 minutes and 41 seconds. Diener yells I try to scream but there’s no sound/’Cause you’re alone/And I want you to come around while choppy riffs blaze through the chorus. It’s one of the album’s better songs, due in part to the great guitars. Drummer Jonathan Diener and bassist Anto Boros bring a lot of energy to the track, helping to give it its great grunge flavor.
Nothing More and Prime Meridian are both solid tracks, but they’re sandwiched between two of the album’s strongest moments. The aforementioned On the Line and the album-capper Warming Up are some of the Swellers’ greatest accomplishments on Good For Me. With its Pinkerton-like synth and Diener’s vocal delivery, Warming Up sounds like 1996-era Weezer. It’s really a great song about wishing, dreaming, and how the narrator will never be me without you. Long after the song comes to an end, the keyboards and overall melody of the song will loop in your head, which is always the mark of a memorable album-closer.
With Good for Me, The Swellers have really made a statement. The album shows the band’s best qualities throughout its ten songs: energetic, pop-punk-alternative songs about nostalgia, longing, and youthful exuberance being reflected upon by people who are no longer teenagers. That the band explores these themes while sounding like some of the best bands of the era they’re singing about helps the album leave quite a mark on the listener. It’s been a great year so far for pop punk revivals, and The Swellers may have released the best of the bunch.