The Sw!ms were a sleeper hit for me, coming as a surprise buried at the bottom of a pile of stuff Brian sent my way early in 2006. Their debut Ride of the Blueberry Winter showcased their love of early `60s organ-driven rock while also trying out every tangent their hearts desired. Overall, it was a sprawling yet exhilarating record that ended up sneaking onto my year-end list.
In said review I rattled off a list of like-minded oddball pop bands that don’t actually sound much like the Sw!ms (like Architecture in Helsinki and the Unicorns), but I finally nailed it down. These guys sound like Apples in Stereo -- and no, I came to this realization before I saw that allmusic had figured it out first -- those know-it-all bastards! It’s so obvious now! Both bands are unabashed, Beatles-worshipping pop groups, both love vocoder/robot vocal effects (here it's “Lycopene Eloris (In the Calorie Forest)"), and I’ve seen that keyboardist from Apples wearing a cape (on Colbert's show) while Sw!ms have a song called “Descend Into My Cape.” The Sw!ms’ keyboardist Phillip Price prefers a miner’s headlamp instead.
“Ladyfist” hits you early on with its feel-good surfy vibe, going all-in with retro-style heavy panning of organ in the left speaker and guitar in the right. “Turbo Lined Suit” perhaps best exemplifies the band’s summery vibe, with roughed-up early-era Beach Boys melodies courtesy of Brian Langan and an uptempo tom-riding beat played with that `60s frat rock abandon. And then there’s “Pile of Features,” an instant favorite for me because they get silly with an addictive wordless vocal line sung in their patented Muppet-esque tone (see “Blood in the Lanai”), they rock a mouth-trumpet solo in the bridge and it’s all overtop a bouncy programmed beat full of faux-cabasa, the drum machine being a new element to the group’s sound found in a couple other tunes here.
However, while perfecting their hooks, the Sw!ms have done away with many of the fringe elements of their debut. You won’t find anything as ‘emo’ as “Knitting and Knitting” here, and the departure of drummer Claire Connelly a while back has me missing that female vocal element. The band doesn't have the blinders on, though, mixing things up by diverting to some lighter acoustic tunes (closer “Center Eye,” “Celery Clothes”) and getting a bit psychedelic in the bridge of “Turbo Lined Suit,” taking things down with some (real?) sitar twanging before revving back up. “All Is Nice” opens the album with a violin and flute melody that welcomes you to the indie rock Renaissance Fair. On the other end of the spectrum, epic tune “Falconeater” shows the band rocking harder than ever before with some of the heaviest guitars they've implemented, but later stripping down to bongos and percussion, car-horn brass and fun call-and-response vocals. Flaunting heavy blues rock they merely hinted at on Blueberry’s closer “Upstate Milkmaid,” the group constructs a lengthy outro that slows then builds and builds to more than one powerful Zep-ish riff to end the song.
Itemlord is a blast for nerds like me looking to cut loose. I must urge the Sw!ms to keep on trying wacky shit, because I worry that if they streamline their style with each record we will soon be left with predictable tunes. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about it though -- these guys play like they've got wacky in their bones.