A Day Late: Swell—Whenever You’re Ready
September 29, 2009
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Swell—Whenever You’re Ready
“…I can’t get out of here … I can’t find the door … just to let people know, if anyone’s listening … I’m still alive …”
And Swell let everyone know in ’03. We hadn’t heard from Swell in a bit, so when “Whenever You’re Ready” dropped, well, we were more than ready. Sort of.
It’s very much a Swell record, sitting very pretty in their impressive roster. But whereas in the past Swell might have been seen (heard?) as insular (and they are …), here, it all opens up. Lyrically and sonically. Swell lyrics are always sort of like listening and perceiving through a thick cream, but that works in their favor. It’s obvious that David Freel is singing and writing about something that is very, very important to him, and often something very swell (sorry), but it can be amorphous and oblique. But the beauty of that for your humble listener is that I can graft on my own mythology or slant to the words, without slandering Freel’s narrative. But here, things seem much more personal (a bent he’ll pursue more and more later on, especially with “South of the Rain and Snow” and with Be My Weapon) and open. To what exactly? I’m not sure. But all that vagueness, and mine, are what Swell is all about.
“Whenever You’re Ready” is sonically more open than before as well. Not that Swell are dense and thick and impenetrable. Moody, complex and (I loathe to say it) economical, maybe. Sure. Economical? Wait: it’s distilled. Down to what is important and everything placed exactly where it needs to be with no filler. But here, it all seems a bit more … “blossomed.” You got Freels’ strummy strummy strumming and with Sean Kirkpatrick back in the drum seat on this one it not only harkens to earlier Swell, but takes those past points and aim them forward into some new territory without ever losing that Swell identity.
Having Kirkpatrick and Freel not geographically next to each other is obvious on the spin. The album is a wandering, sun-drenched drive. Absolutely gorgeous. It was sort of an unexpected ante upping of their lushness on this one and it caught us by surprise (as did the next one …). But it’s a light shift in tone and execution for Swell. Not a reinvention. And for a band that emerged fully baked out of the oven, the smallest of twist and turns can be monumentally telling. And rewarding.