I talked in my opening thoughts about innovation and forward-thinking music that was released in 2016, but we’re taking a bit of a detour from that with this one. Swain’s The Long Dark Blue is not an innovative record at all, but it is nevertheless a fantastic one. The album is an explosive mix of punk/grunge that feels like it dropped straight out of the mid 90s, and owes an obvious debt to bands like Nirvana, Fugazi and even a bit of Weezer. But that shouldn’t deter from its appeal. The Long Dark Blue is full of fantastic songs that show us the style can still be relevant in 2016, and is more than just a pastiche of the bands that came before it.
One of the record’s greatest strengths is in the way it counterpoints the melodic with the harsh, something that made albums like In Utero or The Argument really stand out. ‘Half Asleep / Half Awake’ and ‘Secrets Inside’ execute this contrast fantastically, with killer choruses that you could easily find yourself humming along to set against more dissonant moments in the verses. The vocal harmonies on this record are really stellar at points: ‘Kiss Me Hard’ and ‘Seen a Good Man (In a Bad Mood)’ are full of soaring, spine-tingling vocals that recall some of Guy Piccioto and Ian McKaye’s best moments. The latter song is my favourite from the album: it opens with a really moody, sinister tone but erupts into an epic chorus that’s a candidate for year’s best, with a fantastically sharp and snaky central riff.
The Long Dark Blue won’t win any awards for originality, but the songs on this album are easy to love and manage to be incredibly catchy despite the harshness of the bands grunge sound. If you want to get down like it’s 1993 with a blast of good old fashioned teenage angst, look no further.