The Swellers - Ups and Downsizing Record Label: Fueled By Ramen Release Date: September 29th, 2009
Flint is one of the larger cities of Michigan and is famous for producing the General Motors Corporation and Michael Moore. Most wouldn't think such a rustbelt, industrial town would be able to nurture hook-laden punk bands, but enter The Swellers. The Flint quartet have delivered their second full length and Fueled By Ramen debut Ups and Downsizing. Written primarily by brothers Nick (vocals/guitar) and Jonathan Diener (drums), the 11 songs paint a breakneck, endlessly melodic picture of their hometown and touring life.
The soaring octaves and massive chords of "2009" start off the record. Diener sings his initial lines "I keep on my shoulders the weight of the world/But I broke when you asked for a ride" just as his band-mates erupt into the double-time punk the group built their sound on. It's a summation of where they've been and where they currently are, culminating with Diener declaring "This is my holiday!" over a bouncy breakdown.
"Fire Away" is the first single of the record and for good reason, as it's packed with chunky guitars and one of the catchiest choruses on the album. It's a great showcase of Deiner's muscular pipes, which bring Rise Against's Tim McIlrath to mind.
"Feet First" is a breathtaking example of how much the Deiner brothers' songwriting has grown over the years. Taking the emotional power of songs like 2007's "This is My Everest" and raising it exponentially, the song is about an actual tale of a would-be suicide victim who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and changed his mind mid-jump, landing on his feet to survive. The song starts with just Diener and a few clean chords and eventually explodes into a wall of massive guitars. The chorus will stay in your head for weeks and the punk "whoa"s at the end are simply transcendent. You'll immediately want to be seeing this song live at a show and singing along.
The two-and-a-half minute "Do You Feel Better Yet?" sounds like a sped-up Weezer track, with its irresistible melodies and good implementation of acoustic guitars. The midtempo title track "Ups and Downsizing" is about the economic troubles faced by the band's hometown and finds Diener questioning "Do you ever wonder/If we should leave or ride this out?". When Diener exclaims "It's looking up!" over massive, bright chords, he assures the listener that he has some hope for his city.
Any longtime fans afraid that the Deiner bros and co. have lost their punk edge need to look no further than "The Iron", a two minute barnburner that has an anthemic chorus ("We either do this now/Or we don't") and a simply epic ending. Epic is a sorely overused adjective, but when you hear Deiner belting "No time left for anyone!" over beefy guitars, theres no other way to really describe the action. The midtempo rock of "Watch it Go" paints a picture of summer days with friends and has a lyrical nod to the band's previous works that fans will surely appreciate.
The boys take a breather with the acoustic "Stars", as Diener sings "I've got these chords/I can't play anymore/Cause they're all i've known for so long/Now they ruin all the songs". The song, which builds up into a beautiful crescendo, reveals a tired Diener who has no room for love due to never-ending touring. His optimism pulls through however, singing "I'll be alright, cause I've got the stars".
Diener is very lyrically blunt throughout the entire record, but he is so honest on closer "Dirt" it's downright startling. Contemplating his mortality, he sings "Put me in the ground to decompose/and inside of your heart always". The track is fast and menacing until Diener finally asks his loved ones to "hold on to a memory of (him)" over triumphant power chords.
Every lyric, chord, and note on this record hits extremely hard. Diener's fiery guitar work brings Weezer's Rivers Cuomo to mind, as the solos serve to complement the equally striking vocal melodies and aren't just senseless shredding. There are endless examples of this on the record, with the solos on "Sleeper", "Ups and Downsizing", and "Do You Feel Better Yet?" being some standouts. Producer Mark Michalik does a great job of capturing the band's raw sound, making the guitars sound crunchy and bright and letting Deiner's melodies speak for themselves.
Few albums meld punk ferocity, pop infectiousness, and modern rock timelessness the way Ups and Downsizing does. Their brand of hooky-punk rock has the ability to please fans of bands ranging from Weezer to Nofx and there's a good chance these guys will explode (being on tour with Paramore can't be hurting them either). The Swellers do little wrong on their Fueled By Ramen debut and you'd be missing out sorely on one of 2009's best records if you don't pick it up.
Recommended if You Like: Bayside, Alkaline Trio, Green day, Weezer
Key Tracks: "2009", "Fire Away", "Feet First", "Dirt"