Assistant ANDY Editor
During the 1990s, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina band Superchunk put out an album of sturdy pop-punk virtually every year. Swearin’ not only carries forward Superchunk’s fuzzy sound, but also seems poised to become similarly prolific. Surfing Strange arrives a little more than a year after Swearin’s auspicious debut LP and it is a satisfying second lap.
Despite their first album’s strength, Swearin’ has not recorded a complete retread. The hooks are harder to come by on Surfing Strange and the tone is less rambunctious overall. The highest-energy cuts, like the standout “Dust in the Gold Sack” and “Young,” are clustered at either end of the album. Ballads and lumbering, mid-tempo riffs dominate the album’s, nonetheless enjoyable, middle stretch.
Bassist Keith Spencer also contributes vocals for the first time on Surfing Strange, but Allison Crutchfield’s voice, alternatively plaintive and barbed, remains the band’s signature asset. Somewhat disappointingly, Crutchfield, Spencer and guitarist Kyle Gilbride rarely exchange vocals on the same track. Crutchfield often sings of lost love and “grudges unrequited.” It could have been compelling to hear one of her bandmates chime in from the perspective of either an ally or antagonist.
In retrospect, it feels as though big albums with even bigger marketing campaigns dominated 2013. Yet, Surfing Strange was not teased in 15 second increments on Saturday Night Live, like Random Access Memories, or released early via app, like Magna Carta Holy Grail or ARTPOP. Swearin’ has crafted a straightforward, thirty-three minute volley of unpretentious guitar rock, and its modest ambitions are actually refreshing.
If Swearin’ drops an album as enjoyable as Surfing Strange each year for the next decade, I will buy every one.