Review Summary: "The best Jeff Rosenstockcore album of 2021"
Reflection and regret are at the core of the sugary power pop of Telethon’s Swim Out Past The Breakers
. Kevin Tully, the band’s singer and principal songwriter, is constantly remembering, asking how his past has led to or resembles his present. The prevailing question of the record is why we keep making the same mistakes and how continually difficult it can be to rectify them, why “someone with such a simple problem can’t keep it solved”.
This type of reflective attitude certainly isn’t a novelty in the genre. From “Thirteen” by Big Star to the entire Jeff Rosenstock solo catalogue, guys with an ear for hooks and a punk affect seem to love looking backward, to celebrate or bemoan what was. But Swim Out Past The Breakers
doesn’t really evoke a sense of nostalgia, it’s got an attitude that is clearer than sentimentality: I was a screw-up then and I’m a screw-up now and I’ll certainly be one in the future.
Speaking of Rosenstock, he is probably the most immediate analog to Telethon. They’re less nervy and definitely less political than Rosenstock, but they have a similar comfort seamlessly incorporating various genre signifiers (surf rock guitar on “Marlinspike”, ska riffing on “Cyan”, light-hardcore shouting on “Masterationalizer”) and have similar tastes in instrumentation and arrangement. There are delicate bells on “Shit (Jansport)” and “Panorama (The Polynesian)”, horns on “Outstandingly (The Riviera)”, and goofy (a compliment) keyboards basically all over the damn thing. It never gets as heavy, lyrically or musically, as a Jeff Rosenstock album, but Swim Out Past The Breakers
feels like it’s made with a similar ethos: plenty of variety, maximalism over purity, hooks over everything.
Though Tully is really the star of the album, more than half of the songs feature guest musicians or vocalists, creating a ton of variety across the record and even within some songs. Take opener “Shit (Jansport)” as a representative example: fingerstyle acoustic guitar and bells lead into pop-punk riffing leads into a jazzy call-and response breakdown courtesy of Franz Nicolay and Tiny Stills’ Kailynn West leads into a frenzied final statement about the baggage we are all carrying around in our heads. It’s dizzying, engaging, and exceedingly theatrical.
So what is all the energy and theatricality of Swim Out Past The Breakers
in service of? Well, omnipresent frustration, people we love or loved but let fall away, the difficulty of changing what we don’t like about ourselves. Tully writes about oversharing with Home Depot employees, about pissing off your boss by mistake in an e-mail, about projecting uneasy companionship onto a spider in the corner of your room. He mines his past, pulling up scenarios and concerns that feel relatable and engrossing. It is, as Telethon’s Bandcamp bio says, “Powerpoppunkrock for the modern kids.” And it’s really excellent.