Trying to make it “big time” as a local musician is never an endeavor to be taken lightly, no matter your level of dedication to your craft. If your bitchin’ garage band isn’t starting off in New York or Los Angeles, then the deck is pretty stacked against you already. While Denver isn’t exactly a terrible town for local musicians, it is best described as a tiny pond full of medium-sized fish. If you are really gonna give the dream a serious shot on the streets and in the bars of Cow Town, not only do you have to have a team of proficient musicians backing you up (or a newer iPod), but in order to really stand out you need something else as well. You need something special…
You need a schtick.
I’ve played with hundreds of different bands over the course of the last two decades, and I can appreciate and evaluate genuine musical talent and dedication with alarming accuracy. In all of my years of playing, I can really only remember a few of these bands because they brought their own brand of magic to the table. We used to get booked a lot with a weird furry death metal band that always brought a huge following, despite sounding like a bunch of hot toasters and running garbage disposals being dropped into a bathtub at the same time. They packed the bars every time because humanity can never get enough of a giant clumsy screaming panda bear beating the shit out of a drummer slowly suffocating to death inside a Mayor McCheese costume. With these guys, the importance of musical skill and songwriting was nowhere near the top of their list of priorities, but I’m sure that nobody really came for the solos played clumsily by a dude trapped inside a sweaty 45 lb. dog mascot costume.
We also played with other local pop punk bands whenever we were billed correctly by the venue, but when my band’s popularity was beginning to wind down, we noticed there was a universal schtick that was being adopted by every pop punk band in town: it was an obnoxiously shitty trend that came to be known as “the sick note”. Punk, pop punk and pretty much all pop music normally ends on a resolution in the same key, usually in the 5th or 7th major, because that’s what both our ears and brains are naturally predisposed to hearing. The only problem with this formula is that is incredibly hard to keep these same progressions fresh (or original), as they make up the DNA of almost all music. The pop punk bands in Denver decided it was cool to end progressions, bars and even choruses on really off-key notes and minors. While this musical decision made your song feel unique, it also made your song sound like utter shit, and every one of these bands never went anywhere. This somehow was adapted as a mainstream thing, which made me glad that I chose to retire when I did.
It would seem that the fire and flames of pop punk had all been but extinguished in our fair city, but its seed merely lay dormant in the hearts of the young….
Which brings us to the current day. I was recently asked to write this review on The Swift’s newest album, All Sunshine due to my musical background and familiarity with the Denver music scene. Initially, I was apprehensive to see what the newer bands were doing with the newest, edgiest incarnations of the modern sick note, but when I hesitantly clicked play on All Sunshine in my media player, I honestly could not believe my ears.
It turns out that The Swifts definitely have a schtick: They have all of the right pieces, in fucking spades.
There are four guys that make up the The Swifts: Mike sings and plays rhythm guitar, Rob rips up the lead, Jim rocks the bass and Rich pounds the skins. These fellows are a bit hard to dig up any other substantial info on, but they have a stellar Instagram if you wanna see more of what these guys do both on the road and at various skate parks. These talented gentlemen call Denver home, which makes us old Mile High punk rockers proud. But that’s enough of an intro, let’s talk about why this album has all the right pieces going for it to stand out from the pack.
Piece One: The Sound. Right away, what strikes me the most about this album is the overall quality of this recording. In this digital age of ProTools and prolific home studio setups, most locally recorded albums feel cold, disjointed and just seem to be missing that special “something”. This album, while likely recorded digitally using current techniques and surroundings has a delicious vibrant analog warmth to each and every note slammed into every track. It feels full, solidly professional, and is mastered (for lack of a better adjective) masterfully. The sound quality of the entire album is phenomenal, and you can hear every tiny detail that each member of the band carefully added into each song, all packed inside a perfectly balanced realm of auditory bliss. You could almost swear that this album was recorded inside the Blasting Room, with Rise Against sitting outside of the recording booth, impatiently pointing at their watches signalling that their turn was next.
Piece Two: The Talent. These guys have some serious skills that set them apart from the rest of the local pack. From the pounding and punchy rhythm section, to the soaring harmonies and jaw-dropping vocals, every song on All Sunshine requires, no, demands your undivided attention. There are no weak links anywhere that the musical skills are concerned, and as a group, they sound as if they are all laser focused on building and creating the same musical vision. The guitar tones are bright and stunning. Mike’s vocals have an incredible range, from a stunning New Found Glory luminosity to a growling intensity reminiscent of bands like Anti-Flag, all backed by floaty, almost dreamy backing vocals. These are four guys who are clearly fulfilling their prophecies.
Piece Three: The Songs and Songwriting. All Sunshine features ten songs and still clocks in at a blistering 34 minutes, and not one second of this is wasted. The tunes on All Sunshine feel like an important component of a larger unit, but still have enough variety to not induce listening fatigue. The songs flipkick right into your brain and hook you from start to finish. The riffs and solos in each song keep the energy up and the well written lyrics draw you in further. From the opening staccato blur of “Snappy”, to the surf-rock infused title track “All Sunshine”, all the way to the curtain call of the boozy “One More Drink”, The Swifts are ready to put both their reputation and all their cards on the table for everyone to see.
My favorite tracks from this album were “Blackout”, which is a driving and unrelenting hammer of a song all about having one too many. Mike’s vocals, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket of distortion makes a perfect amalgamation of an aggressive night out on the town, stocked full of libations. This song uses some brain melting guitar solos as bridges between verses and never lets up. My most favorite track on All Sunshine is “I Will Be There”, which is packed with tight, well written riffs that lead into an incredible pre-chorus that suddenly bursts into an absolutely delicious chorus that balances soaring hopefulness tinged with a touch of unfulfilled desires. The vocal harmonies are absolutely stunning and makes you secretly wish this song was extended a few minutes longer (and this would also bring the album length to 37 minutes long). Those were my favorite tracks, but as a whole, All Sunshine is really impressive from start to finish and makes for a killer soundtrack for a pub crawl or an evening ripping through the mountains on your motorcycle. As far as sightings of the “sick note” go, I am proud to announce that this is thankfully nowhere on this entire album, which is a huge plus in my book. I am seriously considering going out to see these guys live, and that is a feat in itself, as it takes a lot to get me out of the house these days.
I’ve played with almost every band in Denver over the course of the last two decades, and I’m genuinely bummed that I’m not getting a chance to open for these guys. They are definitely on a much higher tier than all the other local acts I’ve worked with. Make no mistake, these guys are the real fucking deal.
…and that’s one killer schtick, indeed.
Don’t just take my word for it (even though you totally should). Check out this incredible LP in it’s entirety here at their bandcamp page. If you like it, you should be cool (like I did) and buy a copy for your Zune! Be boss and support local music!