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Swell



Swell emerged in San Francisco in 1989, a time when the American Music Club ruled the town and moody, mildly psychedelic, guitar-based bands like Mazzy Star and Red House Painters were just starting out. Led by vocalist David Freel (the only continuous member throughout the band's lifespan), Swell also employed this crepuscular dream pop approach, but with a drifting acoustic element which inspired more than a few Ennio Morricone references.

After three well-received but little-heard albums, several lineup changes, and an arduous battle to get a fourth album made, Swell finally jumped to Beggar's Banquet and in 1997 released their most-lauded record, Too Many Days without Thinking. Here they upped the ante some, infusing their somnambulant midtempo sound with harder-edged guitars and more submerged anger -- noise rock instead of noise pop, perhaps. For All the Beautiful People followed a year later, working in much the same vein, full of heavy hypnotic grooves and dark psych-tinged textures.

After a three-year layoff, Swell returned in 2001 with Everybody Wants to Know. Here they are a band pretty much in name only, as Freel plays every instrument on the album (except drums on about half the tracks). The sleekly produced record is pretty much in keeping with the two previous Swell efforts, though: Freel's raspy, subdued voice plays off distorted guitar hooks and steady drums. Weird synth breaks occasionally give the music a slight early '80s New Wave sheen, at other times acoustic guitars evoke that drifting spaghetti western feel, but for the most part the songs just crawl along on the shoulders of their moody, loping rhythms, Freel pining away all the awhile for that indefinable something he never seems able to find.

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