Two years ago, Treble held its big Best of the ’60s feature. Sure, there was plenty of your requisite Beatles, Stones and Dylan, but there was also Zombies, Love, the Kinks and Os Mutantes. To my surprise, I received an album from a new Pennsylvania band that sounded like it could have fit in with those ’60s bests. The Sw!ms, don’t forget the exclamation point, hail from Scranton, PA, a city that’s smack dab in the Northeast corner of the state, closer to upstate New York than to its own Philadelphia. One can either catch a game with the Scranton / Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, check out the Houdini Museum, or catch an episode of the American version of The Office while in Scranton, but you’d be best served by seeing a show with the stunning new band, the Sw!ms.
Ride of the Blueberry Winter is the name of the album and immediately its title and cover art catch your eye. For one, the title recalls the heyday of the wacky and silly names that ran rampant in the sixties such as the Strawberry Alarm Clock or the Chocolate Watch Band. Seripop does the cover art, or as they are more technically known, Seriographie Populaire, a pair of Montreal poster artists that also spend part of their time making a ruckus in AIDS Wolf. Everything about this CD on the surface hearkens back to the experimental love-filled days of daisy chains and Nehru jackets. When you delve under the surface, to my surprise and pleasure, there was more of the same. What makes the Sw!ms so damn charming, loveable and warm is the combination of Brian Langain’s impassioned vocals with Phillip Price’s organs (the instruments, not the body parts). Claire Connelly’s drums and Matt Walsh’s bass make for a charging rhythm section that allow the other two to really let loose.
Oddly named tracks might befuddle the masses, but the easiest ones to interpret generally end up to be the best on the album. “Sara Jean” is just one of those tracks (minus the coda of recorded urination) that shows that the Sw!ms have mad songwriting chops. If the Old 97’s went back in Doc Brown’s Delorean to forty years ago, this is the song they might have written. “Depth Charge” and “Truffleberry Wine” are just as worthy, the latter with a barroom piano that sets a jaunty mood, yet somehow filled with ennui. “Knitting and Knitting” is a stunning piece of songwriting, complete with weeping strings and falsetto choruses. I could have listened to the Hammond organ solo for another two minutes at least. Songs throughout the album can have the psychedelic imprint of the Beatles and the power pop of the Posies with particular tracks at the beginning having somewhat of an alt-country feel with slide guitar.
At sixteen tracks, Ride of the Blueberry Winter is a lot to take in, but is well worth the admission price. Speaking of the sixties, back in that decade and in the ’70s, Disneyland used to have separate tickets for each of their rides, much like a carnival. You had to purchase tickets in packs and carefully portion out what you might need for the day. Some of your tamer Fantasyland rides might merit a `C’ ticket if you were lucky, while the attractions that no one visited, like Tom Sawyer’s Island, were worth an `A’ ticket. The major coasters like Matterhorn were `E’ tickets, thus coining the phrase, `E Ticket Ride.’ The Ride of the Blueberry Winter is definitely an `E’ ticket ride, full of aggressive and fun 60’s power pop that outdistances most in the genre. Need more convincing? Put on “Vermillion Archer” at a party and watch everybody get crazy!
Zombies- Odessey & Oracle
The Old 97’s- Fight Songs
The Posies- Dear 23