Review Summary: The Swellers will not be labeled... And they can still sell ice to eskimos.
Even those who pay no attention as to which record label a band is aligned to, raised an eyebrow when Michigan punk rockers The Swellers signed with Fueled By Ramen in 2009. It seemed a match made in hell, with the quartet more likely to don greased-up overalls than the neon shirts usually associated with the label. The fear would be that the band would trade their blue collar tales of sub-zero temperatures in hometown Flint, for auto-tuned complaints of how the Gainesville humidity upset their fringes. Initial fears were allayed with their third LP ‘Ups and Downsizing’ containing the same rich, detailed storytelling that proved so potent on the band’s earlier recordings. And while The Swellers continue to naturally evolve in a more accessible direction, it is pleasing to report that they have not been hanging around with Gabe and Travie, if follow-up ‘Good For Me’ is any indication.
While it is far from a return to the blazing solos of their skate-punk upbringing, it takes all of about ten seconds to realize that this is still The Swellers that loyal and ardent fans have grown to love. It comes in the form of a glorious guitar line which snakes its way through superb opener ‘Runaways’, and reminds of those infectious riffs which The Gaslight Anthem have made their own of late. Similarly, while successors ‘Inside My Head’ and ‘The Damage’ may not include mile-a-minute drumming, the accomplished rhythm section of Jonathan Diener & Anto Boros are as tight and driving as they have ever been, a fact which may owe something to the stellar production courtesy of Bill Stevenson & Jason Livermore. If anything, the quartet could have afforded to cut loose just once – especially with the way the still strong ‘Nothing More to Me’ begins - since the album’s closing tracks do begin to lean towards a languid mid-tempo pacing, which becomes over-reliant on that aforementioned storytelling.
Where The Swellers truly excel however, is in their meticulously detailed and articulate songwriting, where each minuscule nuance lends an engaging sense of either connection or believability. The obligatory reference to their hometown’s frigid weather on the Alkaline Trio like ‘Parkview’ almost makes you want to head for the snow, while you can just picture lead vocalist Nick Diener thumping his chest when he sings “It’s not the friends you thought you had, or your location on a map, it’s what you feel in here” on the acoustically accentuated ‘Better Things’. Basically, the sincere, authentic and much-improved front-man could sell ice to eskimos, so when he states “I’m on the line for you” on the slightly ill-fitting fuzzy alt-rocker ‘On the Line’, one gets the feeling that the number he hands out will not begin with 555. It all comes together near perfectly on the energetic and catchy lead single ‘The Best I Ever Had’, where the engrossing nostalgic theme that runs throughout ‘Good For Me’, hits home on multiple personal levels.
As with any band worth their salt, what The Swellers have done on their fourth full-length release is develop their craft in a way which has not significantly altered their sound. The instrumental refinements and more universal lyrical themes may rub some long-time fans the wrong way, but to say ‘Good For Me’ is anything other than a strong, heartfelt and consistent punk-rock album would be misleading. Many are likely to want to re-label The Swellers to pop-punk or alt-rock, but the truth is that the band will not be labelled... Fittingly, Nick Diener suggests "Forget about the things they say, there's nothing more to me than what you see". This may not necessarily be the best album of The Swellers' career, but 'Good For Me' is one which very much consolidates their future. Furthermore, it could well lead to their magnum opus if “I’m on my way to better things” is in reality a mission statement of sorts, while the title of the closing track could be a telling sign that The Swellers are just ‘Warming Up’.
“If everyone else heard this, they wouldn’t be so sad”
Recommended Tracks: The Best I Ever Had, Runaways, Inside My Head & Better Things.