I was treated to the sounds of Wayward Sway at a San Francisco bar in late 2007, a local show featuring a local band. My intrigue was at peak level, due both to preparatory listens of MySpace mp3s and feelings of inspiration after reading the band’s eloquent and unique bio:
“They stomp their feet and sing with their hearts. Sometimes they are out of tune. Sometimes they are out of touch. Still they persist. Let them.”
With this excerpt, the band manages to sum up the story of every Little Indie Band That Could, demonstrating even before the first listen that Wayward Sway may very well be a cut above the rest. Amongst the bottomless well of bands that emerge seemingly every week with sample packs of mp3s in tow, it is indeed the value of persistence that allows for the building of both musical improvement and integrity, features that make a band worthy of your ears and your respect. With their debut self-release, On a Broken Machine, Wayward Sway boast a collective, intimate feel, revealing experimental folk music woven from elegant layers that continuously reveal skilled and unblemished songwriting at its core.
On a Broken Machine could easily be mistaken for a traditional folk record, as songs like “Western Slough,” “Kara, “Dry & On the Mind,” and “Kiss the Exorcist” are eponymous in their acoustic textures, nimble banjo, and gentle self-effacing lyrics. However, the more turbulent and less definable qualities that drive songs like “Well Lit Places,” “Blackened Ground,” “Harbor,” and “Rising River” take the center of the album to more effervescent level, with “Kiss the Exorcist” closing the album to the tune of the sweet and the forlorn. “Weak for Fire” serves as an extraordinary center of On a Broken Machine, with its taut strumming set to rootsy percussion, vocals swirling in a layered frenzy, and the polished violin hook leading the way to the song’s emotionally exhilarating apex.
The members of Wayward Sway are confident and savvy with their respective roles in the band; the bass, drums, and guitars all solid, the banjo pluckings infectious and detailed, the additions of the mandolin and violin lovely and perfectly balanced. Martin Hirsimaki’s vocals, which are tough to swallow at first, go from poetically forceful to hushed and quavering at a moment’s notice, the result of which is a textured, vulnerable temperament that brings a new level of likeability to the music’s homespun heart. Experiencing Wayward Sway’s entire package, I have found that anticipation and intrigue have turned into appreciation and a notable hunger for more. I can only hope that the band’s anthem of persistence will continue as such.
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