Being a band for almost 30 years, especially a punk band, the members have to learn to reach and stretch. Swingin Utters (started as Johnny Peebuck and The Swingin Utters) kicked their recorded career off in 1991. Many splits and EPs among 10-plus albums and myriad number changes, Swingin Utters thrive in 2018 with Peace and Love, again released on their home label of Fat Wreck Chrods.
The first track starts with a double-time beat under a bouncing, jangling, bass-driven, punk track with a snotty vibe. It’s a motivating track, ready for a crowd, inciting frenzied pogos. Swingin’ Utters are reminding their fans their foundation still stands hard. But by track two, the band steps back to almost a shoegaze vibe, deploying polyrhythms and a discordant guitar. But then as the bridge kicks in, it’s a more recognize formula, just a mid-tempo song. Still punk, just a little slower among melodies and layered vocals, atmosphere and captivating elements instead of just three chords.
By song three we realize that the Utters have explored some new realms. We all love the classics of the 1990s (Streets of San Francisco, More Scared, A Juvenile Product of the Working Class, Five Lessons Learned), but let’s let an adult punk band experiment with more storytelling, more songwriting. Dispense with the confines. The band is continuing with their prior two LPs, Fistful of Hollow and Poorly Formed, and their gestures into country and orchestrated strings are peppered among punk tunes. They get more introspective with these lyrics, rather than just focusing on rebellion like in their earlier material. Picture the 18-year-old drunk punk smashing things and getting wound up while the older above 30 or 40 punk in his Dickies (over spikes and patches) is alone at the bar with a pint and a shot of whiskey, contemplating and reflecting, and gearing up for another work day tomorrow.
“E.C.T.” is the exemplary track on Peace and Love. It’s a smart song, catchy and somewhat snarly while also employing hand claps and Ramones-like melodies. The Briefs come to mind immediately in tempo, pitch, tone, and lyrics, another fantastic track that balances Johnny Ramones love for the Beach Boys with a punchy bassline. Swear to god. “Dubstep” continues utilizing these same elements. It is bouncy and punchy with hand claps and an added cabasa, plus echoes and reverb on vocal tracks. It’s a unique tune that is undeniably energizing and a little dark. It goes into a few sections within the song that keep you guessing.
There is definitely some clarity in the songwriting that explains why this band was (still is) popular in Boston and New England. The Irish feel of musicality and storytelling that brought us the first Dropkicks, Ducky Boys, and Vigilantes, inspired by The Clash and The Pogues and a bunch of other good bands. The dirgey grit of “Imitation of Silence” is a prime example on Peace and Love, as well as the punk-with-country-twang of “Drinkist.”
There are some straight punk tunes; which, I admit, is what I hoped to get. (I did not want the generic pop-punk machination of 90 percent of the FAT roster; do not misconstrue.) I didn’t want a mellowed band. But the mid-tempo songs are better written and exceedingly more interesting. There are many instruments here–from multiple percussions to the vibe/tonal organ (?) in “Demons of Springtime”. But again, “Yes I Hope He Dies” and “ECT” are straightforward and extremely reminiscent of The Briefs and conquer all speakers!
Swingin Utters have honed their formula by expanding their music. Definite winners all throughout. Even on slower or lighter tracks, when I think I might hit skip, they reel me in with a spark of something unique in tone or instrumentation. Again the lyrics and emotional pull of the album is its strength. And some catchy frigging punk songs!
Standout tracks: “E.C.T.,” “Constant Companion,” “Deranged,” “Yes I Hope He Dies,” and “Drinkist”
RIYL: The Briefs, Street Dogs, Workin Stiffs, Reducers SF, Bad Religion, Toy Dolls, Lillingtons, Briggs’