The Swellers - Ups and Downsizing (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Swellers

Ups and Downsizing (2009)

Fueled by Ramen

When the Swellers were scooped up by uber-indie Fueled by Ramen earlier this year, trepidation on the part of their fans immediately followed. Nevermind the fact that Ups and Downsizing was completely recorded by the band themselves while they were without a label, or that even the band's hardest, fastest tracks have always possessed an underlying pop sensibility that if executed in a slightly different fashion, could win over scores of new admirers and fit in nicely alongside now-labelmates such as Paramore. Those cynics with visions of neon colors, repetitive dance beats and Zelda haircuts swimming in their heads will all be undeniably disappointed in the 'new' direction of the Swellers (or perhaps not, if they give this record a fighting chance) as Ups and Downsizing is a logical progression from 2007's My Everest and, without a doubt, the best thing FBR has released since the days when the Stereo, Jimmy Eat World and the Impossibles dominated the label's landscape. The fact is, the Swellers are traveling the same poppy punk road road they always have; they're just doing it in a much nicer car.

Never one to deny their influences, those of the Swellers shine more brightly than ever on Ups and Downsizing. Opener "2009" is quite possibly the best amalgamation of said influences here (which obviously makes it a solid choice for an opening track); the chunky heaviness of '90s alternative in the choruses paired with the melodic, quick composition in the verses make for an enjoyable listen. This combination is expanded upon exponentially in the next track and lead single, "Fire Away," a song that's built on alarmingly dynamic verses and a driving, mid-tempo chorus, all carried by the ever-improving vocals of Nick Diener. The band's uncanny knack for melody and infectious vocal harmonies are on display on tracks like "Feet First" and "Watch It Go."

Another major influence on the Swellers that becomes known on Ups and Downsizing is Piebald, and namely that band's 2002 full-length We Are the Only Friends We Have. The connection between that record (vastly underrated, mind you) and the bouncy riffing of "Sleeper" and the feedback-laden acoustic chorus of "Do You Feel Better Yet?" is undeniable; both songs have the same melodic, yet slightly off-kilter feel that gave Piebald their distinct musical identity.

Those clamoring for epically fast shredding á la "The Flood" may be slightly disappointed by the lack of it here, but Ups and Downsizing still packs plenty of pure punk rock punch in the positively ferocious "The Iron," as well as album closer "Dirt" (and to a lesser extent, "2009" and "Welcome Back Riders"). It's all in the name of diversity, friends, and those who panned My Everest as one-dimensional -- though that sole dimension was pretty awesome -- ought to at least applaud the Swellers for incorporating different tempos into not just the album as a whole, but within stand-alone songs as well. The band's technical proficiency is still here, but it's less flashy and more subtly solid than it ever has been, which makes these songs sound far more timeless than anything in their back catalogue.

The largest changeup here is the near six-minute "Stars", with the two-thirds of the song taking the shape of a heartfelt acoustic ballad, while the final act, begun by Diener passionately yelling "This one's for you!", is a musically and emotionally huge refrain that demands to be heard through a quality pair of headphones. The song doesn't feel nearly as long as it is, which is a testament both to the band's songwriting chops and to its placement in the track listing, serving as a perfect predecessor to the aforementioned closer, "Dirt."

With Ups and Downsizing, the Swellers have crafted a record with wide-ranging appeal and plenty of staying power. These guys have worked their asses off to reach this point and the stars are beginning to align for them. One of the best records of 2009, no doubt.