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Last night, the relatively fresh, relatively local pop-punk band Swearin’ opened for Iron Chic at Death by Audio. The setup was usual—two guitars, bass, drums—but the volume of the two guitars was such that it overwhelmed everything, the vocals even, so there were just chords and powerful shifting. Somewhere underneath, singer and guitarist Allison Crutchfield fought against it, stonily, brassily singing, “I hope you like Kenosha so much you stay there.”
Kenosha is a bustling Wisconsin college town as well as an adequate nowhere in which to dump someone who has been deemed inconsiderate. There’s this peculiarity of detail to most Swearin’ songs, where a few spare images—”Kenosha” launches immediately from “Place me/ precariously/ Skinned knee/ I want to leave”—will form a kind of inexhaustible tableau of being wronged. This is when words surface curiously as half-poetry, half-argument. Punk rock serves this kind of curved perspective; as it travels, it gathers up furies.
“I don’t hope to convey anything specifically, but typically they come from anger,” Crutchfield says of her lyrics. “I’d say 80% of the songs I write are about being pissed off about something.”
“They’re more impressionistic than narrative, I think,” says guitarist and singer Kyle Gilbride, “aimed to provoke a feeling or gut reaction with certain words and sounds.”
Swearin’ emerged out of a clutch of different bands and projects. Crutchfield, whose move to New York last year sort of initiated what would become Swearin’, previously collaborated with Gilbride in the twee-pop band Dear Marje. Another of Crutchfield’s bands, P.S. Eliot, which also contained her sister, Katie, were, on their final tour, accompanied by Big Eyes, with whom bassist Keith Spencer was playing. Allison asked him if he wanted to play in Swearin’, which was only an unnamed idea at that point. Drummer Jeff Bolt, whom the rest of the band knew from touring the Midwest, moved to Philadelphia in order to play music more often, and was then absorbed into Swearin’. “The whole thing was put together entirely theoretically while Allison and Keith were on tour,” says Gilbride. “It existed for a few weeks before we were ever, all four of us, in the same room together.”
Swearin’ will release their first record through Salinas Records this summer, but you can download it for free or with donation from ifyoumakeit.com. It’s economical in its expression—28 minutes, 11 songs—but I find a kind of limitless value in this sort of music, indignant and articulate. At the show on Sunday, the crowd progressively inched toward the stage, attracted to a kind of bright, unfurling unconscious that through amplification becomes magnetic. By which I mean we are probably innately attracted to this sort of inexpressive dimension of ourselves, expressed, finally, adequately, with guitars and screaming, a mirror in which we are reflected raw and correct.