The Swellers - Ups and Downsizing
Record Label: Fueled by Ramen
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Every new year, resolutions are far easier to purposely ignore than to follow through with. For instance, being fiscally conservative when you just gotta have their cool new rollerblades (here I come, Venice Boardwalk!), or cutting down on fast food (but they're two tacos for 99 cents, you bastard!). The new year brings out new opportunities, a fresh start and more importantly, an end to everything that came before it (The Happening never happened).
Hailing from Flint, Michigan, the Swellers are four average dudes who come from an environment in which upbringing is reflected in your attitude and getting out of dodge isn't as easy as it seems when high school finally ends. The working-class town was one of the focal points in the documentary film Bowling For ColumbineFlashdance Roger and Me and for the Swellers' sophomore full-length (and Fueled by Ramen debut), Ups and Downsizing, is a coming-of-age record about everything going on in their own lives -- and seeing it all from the sidelines as well.
Ricocheting off one another, each of the eleven tracks builds upon the one before it, going from classic melodic punk ("Fire Away"; "Watch it Go") to pop-punk ("Sleeper"; "Do You Feel Better Yet?") to opus acoustic anthems ("Stars"). Like a conversation between the hopeful and the hopeless, brothers Nick and Jonathan Diener have written what might be seen as their candid snapshot of a hometown they cherish, but want to see recover. "These streets are the same to me," Diener shouts in "Welcome Back Riders." "These songs won't mean anything without a place to call our home." From youthful optimism to complete lack thereof, "Feet First" preaches the other side of things by having Diener whisper, "Watching the waves crashing beneath me / Blue and silver, chaotic and serene / And I canít describe the view from up here / Because maybe I wonít be able to tell you what I see / Donít waste your tears on me." Before it breaks into a bevvy of cheers Bad Religion would be envious of and discovers the hope in its own depression, it's obvious the Swellers have topped their Everest and written an album that might just be the perfect balance of melodic & pop punk since Dookie. If producer/engineer Mark Michalik doesn't receive a ton of phone calls for his services after people hear this, then the world has indeed gone mad.
What is most charming about the album is its clearly stated identity and articulate lyrics that rely on telling a story about something we are all quite familiar with, but haven't heard before. After "Stars" brings all this exuberance full circle, "Dirt" is a bittersweet portrait of death that speaks with abrupt bluntness: "No funeral - there's not a goddamn dime you need to spend ... Don't say a prayer for me today / God and I, we never really spoke anyway." Just as lyrically swift as good friends A Wilhelm Scream, the Swellers have the perfect amount of edge and mainstream capability to bring them widespread attention. Nick Diener never forces anything, and his rugged vocals are tailor-made for the material at hand -- even the acoustic first half of "Stars," which never brings in the strings or the choir arrangements for emphasis. Like any of Fat Wreck's bands, the Swellers merely focus on organic melodies with a tightened, finely-tuned pop-punk core.
Ups and Downsizing may evoke a theme of what one might consider to be melancholy or downtrodden, however it's quite the opposite. Filled with an undercurrent of hope and positivity, the plain and simple truth is the Swellers have created a record that is entirely simple without repeating anything. Honest and full of heart, this album is like living out the best year of your life and knowing there is nothing to start over from -- but you still know you can, and hold onto that mere ability to do so. The Swellers are looking back but continuing to move forward, and frankly... that's the only true cliche you're going to get out of this album.