(Listen while you read!)
There appear to be two schools of thought relating to the current state of rock and roll music: (1) “There’s nothing new going on in rock, so realistic music fans will move on to more ‘innovative’ genres,” or (2) “Rock and roll doesn’t have to be new, it’s just rock and roll - so fuck it, let’s party and rock out anyway.” Sure, electronic music, hip hop, and even a new hipster-friendly strain of R&B seem to be taking over the indie music blog world, but there’s plenty of good rock music out there, especially on the local level. These bands, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, recognize the inherently archetypal nature of rock and roll. They tend to work with templates, focused on paying sufficient tribute to the great rock musicians of the past, striving for technical precision, making rock and roll as it was meant to sound: loud, sexy, and full of guitars.
Indianapolis “indie blues” trio Swig are a great case in point. There’s not anything especially “new” happening in their music, but most listeners will realize that’s hardly the point. These guys (and gal) know what they like, they appreciate and incorporate a wide variety of musical styles, and they do a damn good job at it. A glance at the members’ past projects (God Made Robots, Treigh, Black Olive) reveals their deeply-rooted presence in the local scene, and even a few earlier versions of songs that now fall under the Swig moniker. The band’s new EP, Like You Mean It, (recorded and produced by Chris Wodock) is a testament to their skills as experienced rock musicians and songwriters, and it’s a strong debut. Indiana has a rich diversity of bands and styles, but Swig offer a unique and electrifying variation on blues rock that has been largely absent in the local indie scene.
Like You Mean It begins with “All Night Long,” a crackling, riffing romp that immediately displays Swig’s rock power. They also show their adeptness at rapid dynamic shifts: the song easily swings between explosive bluesy rock and a sassy simmer. Every instrument inhabits a distinct sonic space, led by delicious guitar tones that transform the song into something magical during the solo in the song’s final moments. Guitarist Brian Petersen takes lead vocals, doing some call-and-response with bassist Leigh Marino on the refrain, while drummer Jamie Jackson locks into a solid and dynamic groove. “Watch Out” (featured on MFT’s “Top Albums of 2012” playlist) follows with more grungy swagger, a stomping rhythm section, and a saucy narrative about “one badass woman you know well” as sung by Marino. Her voice is an excellent counterpoint for Peterson’s lower range and rougher tone, and they both have a knack for incorporating jazzy, soulful quirks into their voices. “Watch Out” is part Black Keys and part B-52’s or Joan Jett, with a story that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jim Croce song. It’s simple enough to be compelling, and the well-placed hooks make it memorable.
“Why Won’t You Tell Me” is a bit more laid back, echoing Leadbelly (or Nirvana, depending who you ask) in it’s main repeated line. Petersen handles lead vocals again, with nice backups from Marino. Like most of the EP, “Why Won’t You Tell Me” stretches out a single riff, growing and retreating by turns, allowing each player’s musical skills to shine through. Marino steps into the spotlight again on “I’ll Be Gone,” undeniably Like You Mean It’s most jazz-centric track and one of my personal favorites by the band. Set to a classic walking bassline and whispery, brushed drums, Petersen’s guitar is bathed in light chorus effects that give it a shimmering, watery quality. In addition to top-notch playing, “I’ll Be Gone” features the best vocals on the record, courtesy of the whole band. Most of the songs tend to simply repeat the title as a chorus, but that’s really all these songs require. “Overcomplicating” doesn’t seem to be in Swig’s vocabulary, and that’s one of the reasons I appreciate them so much.
Like You Mean It closes with “I Still Believe,” an anthemic, blues-inflected tune with a “Woah-woah” refrain that makes it stand out from the bunch. It picks up volume and intensity as it trucks along, blending traditional sounds with a hard rock sensibility. It seems like a triumphant moment at Swig’s live performances, as evinced by their Live Demo album at MFT and their youtube videos. For a band that only recently burst onto the scene, Swig show a lot of potential and skill. I appreciate their admiration for classic rock, blues, and jazz, as well as the female-empowerment undertones that grace many of the songs. I also like that Swig are really putting themselves out there, playing bunches of shows, pushing their online presence, and working hard to carve their niche in the local scene. From my standpoint, they’re definitely a band to watch in 2013.