Swearing At Motorists are all about minimalism. Their musical framework consists of little more than one guitar, drums and vocals, though each song may contain one or two additional instruments, just to switch things up. But even within that framework, the sound remains bassy, frontman Dave Doughman playing a low-tuned guitar to pair with his already deep vocals. Their songs are short, in the case of latest effort Last Night Becomes This Morning, never reaching three minutes long and, only about three times, even coming close. Their approach is so stark, in fact, they practically make The White Stripes sound like Queen by comparison.
With so little ornamentation, however, the Dayton, OH, duo create wonderfully moody late night rock in the vein of Heatmiser’s Mic City Sons. But even that seems like too lush a record to compare this to, at times. Some songs, like the soulful “Ten Dollars” contain little more than Doughman’s voice and a spare, strummed acoustic guitar, and much of the album was recorded whenever and wherever possible—hotel rooms, clubs, even a German train station. Last Night Becomes This Morning is a patchwork of songs surrounding the proverbial life on the road. No disrespect to “Wanted Dead or Alive,” but Swearing At Motorists paint a much more intriguing picture of said life, merely because of the absolute dearth of romance involved.
Doughman paints a lyrical portrait, not of adventures and good times ahead, but of going through the motions and gradually getting lonelier, while dishing out quirky couplets like “The problem with Sweden/is they send them to London” and “you’re as quiet as a stolen monkey/you’re as cool as any cucumber ever was.” After observing that “nothing feels better than feeling nothing at all” in opener “Losing the Battle, Losing The War,” Doughman lays his emotions bare in the self-analysis of “Northern Line,” crooning, “don’t want your life played out in stereo” over a series of steadily chugged power chords. And on “Timing is Everything,” the band pairs bouncy rhythms with blaring trumpets and Doughman’s admission that “the cover of a magazine is one place you won’t find me.”
Even when Doughman and drummer Joseph Swiniski are rocking out, they still can’t hide the defeat beneath the somewhat restrained, but upbeat energy. Amidst the bopping rhythms of “Waterloo Crescent,” there still lies the plea “Don’t get on that plane/why can’t you just stay with me forever.” On “Not Tonight,” the song even slows and drops out some of the (barely there) instrumentation during the chorus, and climaxes with the line “spending more time apart than together has finally taken its toll/and I can feel myself helplessly spinning out of control.”
The emotional range on Last Night Becomes This Morning goes from hopeful to suicidal, without ever being happy or optimistic. But even in its hungover, melancholy haze, its raw, exposed nerves and bassy melodies are bleak in quite an aesthetically pleasing way. That said, it’s a record meant to be listened to with utmost attention and a healthy disposition. In fact, you might want to lock the drawer of knives, just to be on the safe side.
Heatmiser – Mic City Sons
Cat Power – What Would the Community Think?
764-HERO – Salt Sinks and Sugar Floats
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.