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Swirlies: They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons (1996)

April 26, 2012

Roll: 7-5-6
Album: Swirlies, They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons

The Swirlies inhabited that odd, slightly ignominious landscape of the American shoegaze band. The Brits may have thrown in the towel after My Bloody Valentine released Loveless in 1991 but on this side of the pond it took the haze a little longer to dissipate. If our neighbors to the south are famous for anything, it’s beating a dead horse and then milking it dry.

And thank god The Lilys and The Swirlies were there to carry the torch for a few years because MBV only made Isn’t Anything once and once simply wasn’t enough.

Swirlies’ third album, the ponderously titled They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons, is essentially an amalgam of Isn’t Anything and Slowdive‘s Souvlaki. That is to say, it’s sort of a rockier version of Slowdive’s remake of Loveless, with a few traces of Sonic Youth and Stereolab inserted to fill up this time capsule of the best of early-90’s indie rock.

The fuzzed-out pop hooks and delicate vocals aren’t entirely derivative though. There is something uniquely original about The Swirlies’ music. I just can’t figure out what it is. Perhaps it’s the earnestness with which they approach the genre. There seems to be a steadfast refusal to believe they’re not noise-pop trailblazers and that brings a freshness to all their recordings which maybe shouldn’t be there. But it is.

Unlike the current crop of shoegaze revivalists there’s no sense of “more of the same” about Swirlies’ records. They’re abrasive and pretty and as masterfully conceived as anything by their more celebrated contemporaries.

In retrospect it seems like it must have been pure bad luck that Wild Youthful Days wasn’t the hit Yo La Tengo‘s Electro-pura (1995) was. It’s almost the same album, but Swirlies sound like they actually mean it where Tengo’s album is infused with slacker irony. They were certainly just as cute (or at least not uglier).

But maybe that earnestness was ultimately The Swirlies’ downfall on the road to indie-rock stardom. Earnestness is never cool.

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