Raise / Mezcal Head
Rating: 4.0 / 4.5
Label: Second Motion / Hi Speed Soul Records
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Nearly 18 years ago Swervedriver unleashed their debut album Raise onto the burgeoning U.K. and American alternative rock scenes. Melding songwriting reminiscent of shoegaze with anthemic guitars and driving, punk-inflected beats, core members Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge, along with a rotating rhythm section, carved their own deep niche in the tree trunk of indie history. After going on an indefinite hiatus 1999, they finally resurfaced last year for a world tour and reissues of albums Raise and Mezcal Head.
Reissues can be deceitful bastards; occasionally little more than the same old product dressed up in new clothes, the tug at fans’ desires to own everything by their most beloved artists. Fans of Swervedriver won’t have to deal with this dilemma; these reissues are not half-assed, assembly-line-churned duplicates of the original albums. The remastering itself is outstanding and even noticeable in this digital age. Swervedriver’s enhanced sound sports a full, modernized polish, the low end is given extra guts, and the guitars shimmer and soar in distorted bliss. Staples like “Rave Down” and “Duel” have never sounded more pristine and satisfying from speakers.
Swervedriver’s music still sounds relevant today, even in an evolving rock scene that has all but shied away from early 1990s alt rock. Raise’s frenetic amalgam of shimmering chords and pummeling licks still sounds jarring today. Graham Bonner’s percussive explosion defines the album; this percussion never relents on tracks like opener “Sci Flyer” and “Son of Mustang Ford.” Even under such tumultuous beats, guitarists Franklin and Hartridge still manage to blend hooks with potent melodies. The critically-hailed Mezcal Head followed two years later. Applying more abrasion to their riffs and scaling back the tempos a few notches, the album marked a noticeable evolution in the band’s sound; it’s far more jagged, with tightly-wound songs and taut, incisive lyrics.
Four bonus tracks are tacked onto each album. Previously only available on hard-to-find EPs and singles, they make an excellent addendum to the songs from the proper albums. Raise’s extras include the defining “Hands” and “Over.” “Andalucia” is a foray into ’70s blues, while “Kill the Superheroes” presents the band’s slightly more abrasive and anxious side that would more fully surface on Mezcal Head. That album’s bonus tracks demonstrate the band’s more ambitious side: “Never Lose That Feeling” begins with a typical melodic riff before retreating into a groovy seven-minute improvisation, while “Cars Converge Over Paris,” complete with an affable, punctuated bassline and a floating drum beat, is a rare down-tempo moment for the band.
Swervedriver is a band for many moods. This could be party music, a convertible-cruising soundtrack, or the hope-bolstering tonic for a lonely night in your bedroom with nothing but a pair of headphones. However listeners fancy their Swervedriver consumption, it would be well worth it for fans to replace their aging and scratched CDs with the expanded reissues doused in Franklin and Hartridge’s passion.
by Jory Spadea