Music Review: SW/MM/NG, Feel Not Bad

Published on September 5th, 2014 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Ben van D

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Hillary Clinton giving birth to a fully-grown and wailing Brian Wilson in the passenger seat of a bulletproof deuce coup might seem unlikely. Perhaps no more likely than bleached California coast pop sprouting up from the heart of land-locked Arkansas. However unlikely, somehow Fayetteville’s SW/MM/NG make it seem natural with their debut offering Feel Not Bad.

Their slashed “I”s are less a “Debaser” homage, and more a means of distinguishing themselves from Nottingham outfit SWIMMInG. They need not have bothered, however, since they bring forth a sound altogether apart from their UK namesakes.

Here is the taste of beer can aluminum mixed with lake water as you follow the current downstream. Here is an Edward Hopper painting of a 7-11 parking lot; worn out chucks dangling from telephone lines. Here are washed out 8mm reels of Morrissey jumping rubber sharks on a surfboard.

The cold sand underfoot on the walk home from a beach bonfire.

The death knell of summer nostalgia ringing out across the ocean in pink, staccato tones.

A light touch of resignation is stitched into the fabric of this album. It is tempered by the nonchalant vocals, and lyrics that swerve between the good-natured and sardonic. I don’t mean to suggest this is heavy stuff; it isn’t. In fact, it is mostly free of the kind of pathos that would blot out the levity shining down like daylight from the opening chord to the last sustained note.

The stories told within are of personal reflection. They manage to sound candid without ever veering off into the mire of the embarrassingly saccharine, teen-angst mope, or Springsteen-angst dramatic. The atmosphere is too relentlessly pretty to really be a bummer, but all the while a jocular sense of desperation provides the gravity to keep the thing from falling apart.

“Unknown” sets the tone nicely for what is to follow. It rolls in, white crested, and crashes over you slowly.

“Some Dreams Come True” is a stand out, to be sure. “I Don’t Want to Lose Myself to Belong Here” addresses the struggle between the desires to be accepted while refusing to compromise your identity.

In “Oils,” singer Brian Kupillas languidly muses, “the people pass by, moving on with their lives—I want to know, where do they go?” ripe with the feeling of being in retrograde while the world moves on. “I just need a friend that lasts,” laments the inevitable lonely and chronically static.

“We Do It All The Time” is shamelessly pleasant, and proudly so. It’s grin fuel, and by the time it comes back to the chorus you are likely to find yourself with a big, punchable smirk across your face.

Lush melodies manage to elevate the heavier tracks, projecting Technicolor sunsets on billowing clouds of reverb. The driving beat ushers you along without calling too much attention to itself, the workhorse that provides a simple and solid backing for the guitars to shoot fireworks across. Kupilla’s lyrics are smarter than average modern pop fare, but appropriately sparse and never bore you with the details.

Charming as Feel Not Bad is, it’s not always thrilling. SW/MM/NG stick to what they are good at rather than frenetic smash-cuts or showy wankery. This consistency works well when taking in the album as a whole, but when broken into separate tracks, some songs come off as same-y, which can make the more reserved offerings seem redundant compared to their sharply hooked neighbors. The looser and faster the performance, the better the results; slower tracks take a back seat, but hold their own.

Comparisons to bands like Surfer Blood or Best Coast don’t hold up. Similarities are shallow at best, and SW/MM/NG are encumbered by neither the twee stank of the latter, or callow smarm of the former. A passable match for the mood and atmosphere of the record would be along the lines of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s classic “Having An Average Weekend” on the faster paced tracks. Since anything that dredges up happy memories of Scott Thompson in drag can’t be written off, I’d suggest you give Feel Not Bad a shot. There is no better time of year for this album to arrive. It drops like a ten-pound nail into summer’s coffin, sealing up a season’s worth of memories and sending them out to sea for a Viking funeral.

Feel Not Bad was released by Old Flame Records on August 29.

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