Review of Thing by Swell Tides
by Kyle Cochrun
Few genres are as perfect for drinking at the beach on a balmy summer afternoon as garage rock. Good old breezy, guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll, muscled and accessible, straightforward pop songwriting, the kind of raucous gunk harkening back to the ‘60s psychedelic bands on Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” compilation and best represented today by prolific acts like Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall.
Thing, the latest batch of songs from Akron’s own Swell Tides (the project of 22 year-old multi-instrumentalist Jordan King), fits neatly into this lineage and, naturally, would make for an enjoyable day spent lounging in the sand and sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon.
After a celebratory yelp and the snap of drumsticks, “Eyes” opens the collection with a tidy, fast-paced guitar-and-drums workout and a melodica solo. Under two minutes and out. Cool.
“The Mirror” slows the tempo and bursts with glinting guitar melodies and catchy vocal harmonies evoking the Beach Boys but with occasional creepy baritone growls.
Thing doesn’t stray far from the tried-and-true formula of electric guitars, uncomplicated drumming and short songs. King busts out the acoustic for “Outside,” “American Mummies” and “Dreaming,” an easygoing and pretty kick-back jam immediately followed by the piercing noise overload of “Make It Real.” The record eases back from there and finishes out with five languid numbers, including “Ocean (Stuck in the Middle of the),” a minute of synth drone filler that stands as the only track on the album that could be cut, and “Moon and Sky,” which features billowy slide guitar.
Thing could have been released by Matador or In the Red, labels that have been churning out records in this vein for years. King has the garage-rock aesthetic down, and most of these songs are major indie label-worthy. His next move should be to find ways to further differentiate himself from his fellow garage-rockers, to carve out his sonic signature on the genre’s framework.
One of the few critiques that could be voiced against Thing is that King sometimes sounds a bit too close to current-day big hitters in the genre. His aforementioned creepy baritone growl brings to mind Ty Segall, and the hollers and screams on “Dig It” are trademark John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees. “School” could be thrown into Harlem’s 2010 album “Hippies.” You wouldn’t even notice.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Hippies” is a great record, and it could be argued that King’s close resemblance to his peers says more about the limitations of stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll than it does about his music.
Thing deserves the summertime day-drink-worthy stamp of all good garage-rock records (whereas bad garage-rock is meant for day-chugging). This dude has talent, and if he keeps it up, there’s more in his future than playing anthems for crushing aluminum cans while relaxing in a beach chair.
Or he can just keep making better and better anthems for crushing aluminum cans while relaxing in a beach chair. That might be the best option, actually.
Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio who is currently putting on auditions for a ghastly synth-punk band. No talent necessary. Contact: 330-603-1744