Swirl – Review by Michael Aronovitz
Rockers Building a Fortress
I use the word “building” in my title, because California rockers Swirl aren’t done yet. They are at that awesome start of what will arguably become a magnificent journey, similar to when you decide to change your life, and you walk outside taking a deep breath of fresh mountain air, with a steaming cup of coffee in your hand, a tank full of gas, and a road dappled with bright morning sunshine and promises.
The first thing I think of is “feel-good” when I hear this band’s music, like being the first kid in the neighborhood to discover a project beginning to skyrocket. Swirl is Brian Jones on drums, Alfred Ramirez on lead vocals, Shane Carlson on bass, and Duane T. Jones on guitar. Their self-titled EP Swirl features three songs from the award-winning movie Ditch Day, and also includes two songs co-produced by Cinderella’s Fred Coury. In terms of taking it live, Swirl has been busy, headlining shows in Southern California, and appearing as the support act on several North American tours for supergroups such as Ratt, Extreme, Slaughter, Cinderella, LA Guns, Souls of We, Red Dragon Cartel, and Skid Row. This past January the band put out a new single called “The Lift,” reaching #1 seven times on Indie rock radio in the US and #4 on Banks Radio Australia in the first thirteen weeks of 2018. Hell, it seems this band cannot be stopped.
And who would want to?
The first exposure I had to these guys was their new lyric video for “The Lift,” and once I got past the idea that some of it was purposefully filmed out of sync, I sat in my office chair, bopping my head. When the chorus hook came in, I was smiling wide. To put it simply, the thing’s fucking perfect. Every song you hear for the first time creates its own world, its own standards, its own “base of the house” as we say in creative writing circles, and the chording, vocal line, and delivery in “The Lift,” all hit you right in the sweet spot, the gut, the spine, in the hips, pick your metaphor. Since I am a college professor, I always want to go to micro-analysis, and I might offer here that the phenomenon one experiences physically while listening to this tune, is directly related to the tasteful, yet climactic guitar work, counter-balanced with a doubled vocal, one in melody, the other leading it, coming in high and slipping smoothly into harmony, like they used to do in those old folk songs that became part of your life-blood and bio-rhythms. Only this ain’t no folk song. With the hard pop edge and the powerful feel Jones provides, it comes off more like an anthem. A celebration. Like you were playing for a professional baseball team in a sold-out stadium in the playoffs, and just hit a dinger over the flower bed in left center.
I have listened to “The Lift” twelve times today. That is why it took me so long to write this review. I kept going back to it, because it made me feel like a winner. On technical grounds, straight up, I like the way the lead guitar is produced. That being said, the second rhythm guitar, overdubbed after a couple of measures in the beginning, is mixed dirty, so much so, that it takes a second or two to get used to, almost a punk sound in a more standard rock format. Still, this is rectified when you consider Carlson’s five-string bass work, and not because the strings of his instrument are neon green. It is more that his style compliments this particular track in a way that makes it make sense, and that brings us to the heart and soul of this band’s appeal and its mystery.
These guys are team players. In terms of the aforementioned appeal, this would seem self-evident. Bands of yesteryear were often comprised of such “individuals,” that it seemed they were running off in different directions, fighting for the spotlight. Conversely, nowadays bandmembers are often “invisible,” especially in the ones moving toward the harder and darker forms of metal, since faster riffing, synchronicity, and mechanistic perfection, all seem more important than making personal statements. Swirl has the team concept down without burying the vibe of the particular player. Brian Jones is a stud, clearly controlling the heart of this band, exuding pure confidence and delivering the licks one would expect from a consummate professional. Shane Carlson adds a distinct and measured intensity. Duane T. Jones can play, period, and seems the type that would be equally comfortable leading your band or sitting on the porch, talking about life, making you laugh and relate. And Alfred Ramirez is a pro, unafraid to show feeling and heart right there on his sleeve for the world.
The mystery I would suppose is the band’s overall vision. I think they are still searching for it. I like all their songs to be honest, but they are uneven, mostly in terms of the production values. The two songs produced by Fred Coury, for example, simply sound better than the others from a technical standpoint, and they are the ones that promote the clearest image. They are also the heaviest of the tunes, and yes, I might be biased, because I am more the metal-head than the “indie-alternative” guy, but frankly, those two songs are superior. As said, I certainly like “The Lift,” but if I had to verbalize it (and I do for the sake of a reviewer’s integrity), the ones I would play, were I a DJ for WMMR, the rock station here in Philadelphia, or even Octane, it would be the Coury tunes. The others are fine, “The Lift” even strikingly inspiring, but when we are keeping it real, the two harder songs are the most “realized.”
In all, this “mystique” is the band’s blessing and curse. They are well aware of the idea that they have songs that appeal to alternative rockers and at the same time, metal heads, southern rock fans, and those that prefer the experimental shit that lives on the edge. That is why they named the band “Swirl.” They are an eclectic mix. Yes, it makes them different, but it also can make them seem undecided.
But like I said.
It’s the beginning of a magnificent journey.
The best part is seeing where they go with all this.
Check out the Lyric Video for “The Lift”
Photos by Neil Zlozower
Links to website- http://www.swirltheband.com/
iTunes for ‘SWIRL’ EP- https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/swirl/id627466984
iTunes for “The Lift”- https://itunes.apple.com/album/id/1325371769
Michael Aronovitz is a college professor and the author of three horror novels and two horror collections. He has published more than thirty short stories, and he writes rock reviews for Metal Heads Forever and Heavy Music Headquarters. Aronovitz also currently writes the horror stories for the “Music Hell” series put out by Pure Grain Audio.