Swearin’ – Fall Into the Sun

Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride used to be a couple. They aren’t anymore. The rock ‘n’ roll road is littered with bands felled by romantic turmoil before reaching their natural expiry date. Swearin’ appeared destined to join that roadkill, going on hiatus after 2013’s excellent Surfing Strange. Fortunately, after a four-year cooling off period that included stints supporting twin sister Katie’s ascendance as Waxahatchee as well as her own poppier solo turn on last year’s pleasant but slight Tourist in this Town Allison decided that breakups be damned, Swearin’ remained the most fun she’s had playing music.

Fall Into the Sun sounds like a natural continuation rather than an attempt to rebuild momentum. This isn’t surprising because as co-leads, Crutchfield and Gilbride make perfect foils for one another. Allison’s energetic, no-bullshit melodic punk nuggets tend to serve as Swearin’s calling cards, but they essentially alternate with Kyle’s knottier mid-tempo tracks. His laconic, meandering vocals inevitably evoke Dinosaur Jr comparisons – and might prove tiresome in heavy doses, but interspersed with Crutchfield’s hooks they deliver plenty of sludgy charm.

Allison’s writing favors the autobiographical. On “Anyway” – Sun’s sole acoustic excursion – she sings of leaving West Philly (she recently relocated to LA), and her youthful recollection on opener “Big Change” of “no art degree, no conservatory, just Katie and me” packs the poignancy of “…me and Mike Watt, playing guitar” from the Minutemen’s classic “History Lesson Part II.” The opener’s title clearly refers to its words rather than its guitar, which manages to sound like it’s blaring directly from a weather-worn on-stage amp.

Crutchfield’s prominence shouldn’t diminish Gilbride’s contributions, which are equally important to the album’s winningly scruffy vibe. He locks into a hypnotic grungy groove on the extended “Stabilize,” delivers a towering chorus on “Treading,” and is uncharacteristically catchy – to positive effect – on “Dogpile.”

Fall Into the Sun sounds like it enjoyed a tad larger studio budget – noticeable mainly via the clarity of its occasional quiet passages – without trading the band’s DIY charm. Only the absence of a flat-out barn-burner like “Dust in the Gold Sack” or “Kenosha” compares unfavorably to Swearin’s two prior albums (“Grow into a Ghost” may eventually fill that role), but their soft patches are absent as well.  You’ll be seeing this one again on my year-end list.

Fall Into the Sun