Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Swirl's "The Last Unicorn": Music Review

Don't worry about the title; this is no fey faux-faerie-folk, but a concentrated assault of aggressive shoegazing- postpunk- neo-psychedelic hard alternative mid-90s rock that knows when to hammer down and when to let up. Three Australians, a male guitarist who handles lead vocals [Ben Aylward], a female bassist who adds vocal backgrounds and takes lead on the folkier cuts as a welcome respite from the sonic intensity [Nicola Schultz], and a male drummer who pounds away with deceptive simplicity, the unsung hero of this record [David Ludd].

An hour long, apparently a song cycle long before Yume Bitsu or Surface of Eccyon had revived this suspected prog sub-genre, this works, that's all I can marvel at. If you can match the hazy woozy epics of Swervedriver with the obsessive clarity of Catherine Wheel with the scope of a stripped-down Boo Radleys, these peers will give you some triangulation. Yet, this does not feel like an imitative album. There's a fresh air of exploration and excitement. It delivers a jolt, yet keeps its focus on the horizon, and each track carries momentum that propels it to the next one, perfectly sequenced to convey the narrative of loss and gain and quest.

Far from giddy, yet removed from glumness and navel-gazing solipsism, this is a grand album that ranks highly among my favorite CDs, and the fact that this album seems to be totally unknown only adds to its allure, although this review is my own attempt to return my praises to where they're deserved. This band did not deserve whatever fate left it to (at least international) obscurity.

I posted the above 9-5-06 on Amazon US, the only review to date for a Swirl record. They are not listed in "All Music Guide," but here is a "My Space page." (An aside... Re: my continuing confounding by Amazon raters-- this has a very rare five-star rating, yet two out of four raters of my review gave it a negative vote!) Anyway, today, in my e-mail, I received this:

Thanks for your review of 'The Last Unicorn' by Swirl; you nailed it.

This cd is my favourite and I have many cds of shoegazer and Brit alt pop from 1990's on. It is great to see a Sydney band have its own take on this although, as you point out, they have their own sound that is not so easily categorized as shoegazer.

It was my pleasure to see them in Adelaide when they were touring this album and I was amazed at the racket three people could make; the guitarist sounded like 3 at once. Amazing and I walked out after the gig with a big smile on my face. They had another ep called 'On my own' after this and they were changing sounds slightly which made them even more interesting; a welcome newer direction and a cd well worth following up. They also had an earlier e.p. called 'Touch' which is excellent.

Unfortunately the bass player left and was replaced with another woman but the new cd was terrible [in my opinion]. A lot safer, commercial, and none of the sonic edge. I got rid of it after 2 listens and was bitterly disappointed. Still, one magnificent cd with ne'er a dud track on it is something quite special.

Adelaide, South Australia

P.S. Your blogger again: I cannot locate "On My Own" anywhere either; I do have the "Fade Away" ep which is rather redundant as all but its last cut, a so-so "Wicked Man," can be found on its main two releases, "The Last Unicorn" and the compilation of the "Aurora" and "Touch" ep's released as "Touch."

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