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Album Review: Swale, 'There's No One Here'


Published July 5, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 26, 2017 at 5:19 p.m.

Swale, There's No One Here
  • Swale, There's No One Here

(Self-released, LP, digital download)

The third full-length album from Burlington's Swale is ominously titled There's No One Here. It's blunt, bleak and definitive. The themes explored within are appropriately dark, but only one of those adjectives — definitive — fully and accurately describes the record itself.

Swale's members are Amanda Gustafson and Eric Olsen, who are married, along with Tyler Bolles and Jeremy Frederick. All run deep with Burlington's music scene. Their collective years of experience are evident on this masterwork through innovative instrumentation, wry lyrics and a cohesive vision of opposing inclinations: exuberance and sorrow. It features a posse of additional Vermont musicians, including Ryan Power, who coproduced the record alongside the band.

At this point in Swale's career, locals know what to expect — deafening guitar riffs, unconventional arrangements, strong hints of classic vocal country and, as always, fearless experimentalism — all of which allow the group to transcend genre as they see fit. On There's No One Here, these expectations are met and exceeded. The record takes a refreshingly nuanced gander at everyone's favorite feelings — most notably, uncertainty, regret, isolation, fear and frustration — and spins them into some of the catchiest indie rock you'll hear this year.

The lead single, "Release Your Records!," is laid-back but also cunningly fierce. Its medium-tempo, eighth-note organ notes and buoyant backing harmonies have all the trappings of sun-bleached pop — though Olsen's raspy vocals impart some edge. Lyrically, the cut processes and laments some of the past year's turbulent political events. Passages such as "Someone said it was lost in the confusion / You can bet it cost us the revolution" and "Now you're 45" seem to indict not just one single individual but perhaps society at large.

"Drug Laws" is catastrophic and outlandish, like something out of a gritty rock opera. It's unnervingly paced with a 6/4 time signature. Atop roiling bass riffs, manic piano jabs and a roller coaster of an organ solo, Olsen sings of a laundry list of sentiments that teeter between nostalgia and remorse, culminating in a demonic frenzy: "I'm just a black hole / Born to consume."

Gustafson's raw vocal prowess is repeatedly realized. She shines on the happy-sad "Elevator" and the alt '90s-fueled "Felon" but especially on the devastating, down-tempo waltz "Bird in a Cage." She sings of a confounding love and intones an ineffable feeling somewhere between solace and contentment.

Swale manifest heavy emotions and psychological trauma, but their memorable, singable songs make the prospect of experiencing those things a little less daunting. If they can process anxiety, guilt and the gloomier side of life into a stunning, masterful artistic statement, can't we all find ways to turn our inner darkness into something bright and beautiful?

There's No One Here is available at Swale celebrate the album's release on Friday, July 7, at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington.