Swingin' Utters - Poorly Formed
Record Label: Fat Wreck
Release Date: February 19, 2013
After an eight year hiatus ended in 2011, Swingin' Utters returns with their 2nd album since reuniting, this time a little more raw than before. Many remember Swingin' Utters from their prominent place in the 90s punk scene, including their many compilation and video game appearances (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, anyone?). This time around, they've released an album similar to 2011's Here, Under Protest with Poorly Formed, laying on the folk a little thicker and slowing down the tempo. This time around the vocal filters are heavy handed, but the bouncing downstroke-laden tunes remain as instantly accessible as before.
"I'm a Little Bit Country" is a straight folksy number, complete with banjo and harmonica. "Stuck in a Circle" has that same hint of twang that has often found its way into Swingin' Utters songs, with a catchy chorus. Poorly Formed isn't short of hooks, as many songs are instantly catchy, including the opener "Librarians are Hiding Something," which remains the strongest form of songs that the band writes. Driving, call and response punk rock with super simplistic chord progressions with catchy harmonies. Poorly Formed isn't going to break any new ground on the genre, but given their two decade longevity, that gets a pass, as they certainly have made their own sound more than recognizable. "Greener Grass" initially masquerades as a string-supported ballad, but transforms into one of the album's most catchy tracks, with that signature Swingin' Utters bounce. Many tracks will induce this customary head-bob reaction. Each track averages about two minutes in length, so there's enough variety among the 14 tracks to keep interest for a short while, but over time this fades.
The album starts to fall apart in the 2nd half, with the oddball "Military Barbara Billingsley" opening with the mention of numerous comedians, such as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Louis CK then the line "All you douchebags calling me a ho, you're not invited to Lake Como." Just as soon as you start to figure out what the point of the song is, it ends abruptly. This is punk rock, there's not a lot of depth to lyrics, but it's certainly a confusing track, and it's unquestionably a distraction. "Dreadlock Dread Reggae" belongs on a Punk-o-Rama compilation from 1995, and the album closes with another folksy number in "Sevita Sing," with an intro that sounds just a little too close to the "Stuck in a Circle" lead-in. Outside of the excellent "The Fake Rat of Dave Navarro," a vintage Swingin' Utters track full of snot and hooks, the 2nd half of this 29 minute album falls flat.
Poorly Formed has a distinctively garage-y feel to it, stripped down, bright downstrokes, and bounding beats form this. It's an album you'd want to see performed in a small venue, with their sweat falling onto your face, and no ventilation. That's really the only way the production works, at times it sounds like a perfect raw record, and other times there's too much effect placed over the vocals in the wrong places. As a result, the whole record feels a bit light and could benefit from some weight. You don't really realize how thin this record sounds until you listen to another album right afterwards, it hurts the impact. Poorly Formed will surely grab you instantly, but quickly let go. First impressions of this record are good, but there's simply not enough meat to keep coming back. Nonetheless, it is worth a listen, as there are a few true gems worth coming back for, but as a whole remains a relative disappointment from 2011's vastly superior Here, Under Protest.
I haven't been able to listen to this record yet, but I'm pretty sure I knew what to expect when I finally get around to it--even without this review. That being said? I love reviews that take on this form -- General background/context for the record, track-by-track highlights, and an overall take home.
Last album was such a phenomenal and pleasant surprise that I'm a little bummed out at how mediocre this one turned out. I wouldn't say I dislike it, but your last paragraph nails it; I share the exact same sentiments. Starts out strong, then has a weird flirtation with too many different and loosely seen together ideas. Passin grade, but certainly a minor letdown in the grand scheme of things.