6th October, 2017
Feels Like is available via:
IT is back to the world of the band…
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Crowder
and a fantastic northern force that has potential to do some big things in 2018. I might tread on some worn ground now but, when speaking about Swine Tax, I will look at the North and why more eyes need to come that way; embracing sounds of the 1990s and the U.S. guitar revolution that occurred; D.I.Y. and making sounds that are accessible and widescreen; pushing into new grounds with every release; bands that perform huge sets in the live arena; why next year will be a pivotal year for bands – and young bands who are afforded honours and privilege early in their career. I am new to the wonders of Swine Tax but, looking at their name alone, I am compelled to look closer and see what they are all about. Yesterday, I published a feature that revealed my album of the year: it was Lorde’s second record, Melodrama. It is no shock that album came top of my list. It is a masterful work from a young artist who fits into the modern Pop mainstream but provides music far richer and more eclectic than her peers. I was amazed by the sheer vitality, imagination and intelligence of Melodrama. I looked at the rest of my top-ten (greatest albums of 2017) and, aside from Queens of the Stone Age, the majority of records made were from solo artists. I love IDLES – although they did not make the list – there have been few band-made efforts that come to mind. I wonder why that is. I have been thinking and, aside from the solo market getting the most attention, I find many mainstream bands are not pushing their sound between albums. I have been disappointed by the likes of Foo Fighters and Royal Blood this year – although the latter can be seen as a duo, strictly. Apart from them; it is hard to think of any bands (four-piece or higher) who have crafted an exceptional album.
It is a bit worrying but I feel the new breed are making steps to rectify this issue. I mentioned IDLES – who are making their way to the mainstream – but there are others trying to make their mark on music. I have been listening to Swine Tax and it has been giving me food for thought. I feel sticking with the current Indie/Alternative sounds – aimed at stadiums and composed of generic riffs and little originality – is all good and well if you want to fill seats. If you want to inspire the new generation and push music forward, you need to go further and stop copying everyone else. The likes of Foo Fighters are showing a little fatigue at the moment – even if their latest, Concrete and Gold has been reviewed positively – and there are too many bands mimicking their sound and assuming that is the way forward. I am slagging Foo Fighters off a lot but it is not their fault: a lot of bands are going for arena sell-out rather than creative wonder and brilliance. I have just seen Queens of the Stone Age play in London and was amazed by their set – a tough, muscular and tight performance that enthralled the crowd. They have endured and continue to amaze because they can push their sounds and evolve. Not only that, but their personalities and mannerisms retain the flair and rebellion of Rock. I find there are too few personalities and great figures leading bands at the moment. That will change when we allow the likes of Swine Tax to come to the forefront. Not only does each member have their own identity and explode from each song: their music gets stronger with each release and takes in new elements. It is early days for them but, on their fourth single, they have broken new ground and taking in new strands. One of the reasons they are turning heads is because of the decades/genres they build into their own work.
When reviewers have come to their work; the likes of Pavement and The National have been mentioned. They might not seem like easy bedfellows but both bands have released stunning records and created music you cannot compare to anyone else – I forgot to mention The National when highlighting great band-made albums from this year! I find Pavement are a much more relevant and worthy name one should link with Swine Tax. I will move onto new themes but, before I do, a chat about U.S. guitar-bands and why we should look back at the 1990s. I know I mention the 1990s a lot but, when thinking about the best music around at the moment, I am finding previous decades being brought in. The most fantastic and inventive Pop looks back at the 1990s; some of the newcomers in Hip-Hop and taking from the 1980s and 1990s – when it comes to guitar-bands and the most immediate sounds; I can hear the 1990s come out. Pavement are a band who, ironically, helped to kick-start Blur back in the 1990s. They were going through a creative lull after they brought out The Great Escape in 1995. Riding a high after Parklife: the Britpop battle swung to Oasis after the Manchester act released the peerless (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Both bands were even and matched in 1994: Blur with Parklife; Oasis with their debut, Definitely Maybe. Oasis gained the crown in 1995 but that would all change two years later. Oasis brought out the much-hyped and overrated Be Here Now: Blur brought their eponymous album to the buffet. Blur is an album many see as a high-point and defining moment of 1997 – a record that revitalised Blur and got them back into the critical bosom. Blur, around this time, were on the point of splitting and needed fresh impetus. Graham Coxon (their guitarist) suggested employing shades of U.S. bands like Pavement – you can hear it all over Blur’s self-titled smash. This might sound like a lengthy detour but Swine Tax, in the way they bring bands like Pavement in, have the potential to add a kick and new life to the guitar sounds of today.
There are great Punk bands in the underground but few who manage to summon the majesty and magic of Pavement; combine that with modern relevance and retains some unique edge. Parquet Courts are another band Swine Tax have been compared with. All of this is very strong and impressive but I guess we cannot get too hung up on comparisons and sound-alikes. The northern trio are making their own way and forging their path. What amazes me is how Swine Tax they push themselves with each single. Many bands start rigid and never really unearth anything new with each release. They strike some sort of gold and feel no need to offer changes further down the line. It can get rather formulaic and it is hard to get out of that mindset. Mainstream artists, to an extent, can afford to take that approach these days. Many listeners are looking for something familiar and relatable when it comes to their favourite band. I wonder whether there is a risk doing something new with each album – will critics judge harshly or turn elsewhere?! I am tough on modern bands but know there is critical expectation and many are quite tough to read. That can make it difficult for newcomers to judge what is favoured and how they should make their music. Swine Tax are playing in the local scene but will want to get their music out to the national audiences. They are looking at the mainstream and wondering how they will fit in. Do they follow the course of stadium bands like Foo Fighters or go with something raw and different like IDLES? I feel the underground and unsigned are the most promising when it comes to great band music of the future. I know there are some terrific bands coming through the mainstream but their best days are a few years down the line. The likes of PINS and The Big Moon are terrific examples of where music is heading; what we can expect to see in years to come.
Even though a lot of the best albums of this year have been from solo acts – duos and trios – I have faith there will be a revival. Swine Tax are one of those bands who can join the best before too long. Most of the bands I assess have the ammunition to go a long way and make genuine changes. Not only do Swine Tax have a fantastic combination of 1990s U.S. guitar and modern-day Indie; they have a fantastic D.I.Y. aesthetic to their material. They do not rely on the modernity and techniques of the modern studio; the guys have that raw aspect and manage to make something recorded sound like a live performance. Not that the boys are putting everything onto four-track and sound like Daniel Johnston: they are not the gaudy, polished bands whose days are numbered and rather dull, either. What we get is an independent spirit with the promise of making a genuine impression in the mainstream. Feels Like is a cut that builds off their foundations and finds them stronger, more focused and inventive than ever before. Most great bands tend to make big leaps after a couple of albums or so. The fact Swine Tax are making big leaps this early is really exciting. I feel one of the reasons they are making these improvements and steps is because they refute the shine of the modern studio and are crafting songs carefully. They have democracy in the band and are keeping their ears to the ground. There is a great local scene where they are and, when they play their songs live, they are getting that feedback and reaction – know what works and how the audiences are responding. I feel another reason why Swine Tax will do well in the future is as they come from the North. The Newcastle-upon-Tyne band is in an area of the U.K. that produces exceptional music but is being overlooked by the media. We all know there is that dependency on London and sounds coming from the South.
I have always been worried the North is neglected and living in poverty. It is rather ironic the North-South divide regards wages and living conditions seem to reflect in music, too. There are so many fantastic artists coming from the North and we need to be more aware of what is arriving and music further north than London. The Animals and Lindisfarne are from the same neck of the woods as Swine Tax but, these days; there is a lot more diversity and possibility in areas like Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Fantastic local venues like Think Tank? are providing space for new artists to cut their teeth and get some experience. I have never been as far north as Newcastle but I am listening to stations like BBC Radio 6 Music and hearing newcomers from the area giving airtime and applause. There is less money in the economy of the North and fewer media bodies getting themselves up there. One feels this privation and negligence is forcing many acts (from there) to come down South and move to cities like London. We cannot have an environment where artists are being neglected and all the focus is trained on London. Not only are a lot of international artists moving to the capital; we are seeing acts from other U.K. cities migrate and find new impetus in London. This is disappointing but I hope Swine Tax remain where they are. The guys have great music flowing and they live in a part of the nation with some top venues and exceptional peers. I shall not labour the point of divisions but want to compel people to spend more time looking at northern bands like Swine Tax. I recently ran a piece celebrating the great acts coming from Sheffield: Yorkshire is a county who have always produced epic music and diversity in spades. One cannot ignore the North and how many world-class bands are coming from there. Swine Tax might have their eyes on London but I know, right now, they are busy making music and trying to get their name out there.
Before I come to look at Swine Tax’s latest song; I want to look at live performances and bands who get some honour early in their career. I know there is a danger for northern artists and the fact the media is too obsessed with London and southern acts. There is a much more severe risk circulating through music: the cessation of small venues and people going to gigs. Festivals are more popular than ever but I wonder whether that has something to do with families and treats. People save up for a festival and make it a highlight of their year – few people go to lots of festivals and have the cash to go to lots of gigs. Many festivals are now set up for families: as more people are settling down; they do not have the time to go out and leave their children – family-friendly festivals are a solution for them. How feasible are the regular gigs and going out every week? A lot of small venues are suffering because people are staying in and have little cash to see great acts played. Those who can get out to gigs are benefiting and supporting artists. I mentioned how festivals are getting bigger but is there a real risk we are going to have to close a lot of great music venues in 2018? This year has seen some closures and other venues put under threat. I feel northern areas are at bigger risk than any other at the moment. One way we can counteract this threat is realising how good bands like Swine Tax are in the live setting. Their shows are legendary for energy and impact: crowds go away smiling, sweating and talking. The small venues are paramount for bands who want to make a go of their career. Swine Tax have played some great spots and are building a real reputation as future stars. Their exciting and memorable sets have got the locals buzzing. I feel more eyes from the south need to be aware of bands like Swine Tax. I understand few are unlikely, regardless of how good a band is, to go that far to see them play live – the cost of travelling is expensive and putting many off.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Crowder
My main point is there is a healthy and boisterous live scene; many great new acts who are captivating locals and establishing themselves as ones to watch. Swine Tax are in a fertile area and taking advantage of the fantastic circuit where they are. As their career develops, and they think about a full-length record, they will get demand from other parts of the nation. For all my talk about London and getting away from the capital: the guys will want to play here and venture around the U.K. I feel the band are going to make some big strides in 2018. Feels Like was largely written during the band’s August residency at the iconic Sage Gateshead venue – after they were chosen from artists of the North-East to compose new music there. It is small wonder their latest single has that live-sounding magic – considering where they were recording and the setting they were in. That honour was due to the band’s talent and determination. I can only imagine how compelling and exciting it was recording a venue like that; the sort of inspiration that would have given them – and how important that was with regards the overall sound and quality. I know the band always want to create something bare and live-themed. Their latest single is, in my view, their finest offering. I wonder how important recording at Sage Gateshead was with regards the sound of Feels Like. This important opportunity shows there is a lot of faith and excitement when it comes to the music of Swine Tax. They have gained love and support from local sources so it can only be a matter of time before they get attention from national stations/media. The northern band have made big strides during their time together. Getting that chance to record at Sage Gateshead seems to have provided them fresh impetus and new direction. Not that their previous singles were less effecting: they are all fantastic but they have upped a gear on their fourth cut. I am sure the guys will continue to make steps and developments as we head into 2018.
Shades of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds come out in the opening notes of Feels Like. The elder Gallagher has changed things up for his latest album, Who Built the Moon? He has employed more Electronic sounds and spacey synths; big choruses and French elements. Swine Tax, in their introduction, have a slight intergalactic sensation. There is twinkle and eeriness; there’s echo and strangeness. It is a fantastic and tense beginning that makes the body tighten and the mind wander off. One imagines all sort of scenes and possibilities as the song begins the play. When the electricity and echo ends; the vocal comes in and things become a lot lighter. The hero steps to the microphone and instantly gives the song focus and composure. “How did you ever find me hiding?” asks our man – he has been sleeping for a year and those words really intrigue. I do not think the band literally mean it (that would be an epic lie-in); there is something of the romantic pacificity and neutrality. Maybe the hero has been slumbered and extinct in the dating scene. This girl has come along and reawakened something in him – maybe he felt lost and as though he would never find passion again. That is my interpretation but one could easily hear those early lines and assume something more depressive and reserved. The vocal has charm and energy so it is harder sticking to that assumption – the track kicks and chimes with alacrity and meaning. The composition has that light touch that reminds me of early-Pavement. There are fewer snarled notes and angular riffs but the general tone and flavour summons the U.S. legends. Also, when hearing the song, one gets a breezy and satisfied grin from the vocals. All manner of sounds and possibilities flood the mind as the trio unite and produce a soul-searching, heart-opening song. The opening verse finds the hero coming out of the coma and being found, at last. The chorus is a series of “Do you wanna?” questions and some terrific riffs.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Crowder
It gets harder and more intense as the fuzz and vibrations add teeth and passion to the track. From the balanced and settled beginnings – following that experimental introduction – we get a proper kick of guitars and strut. The mantra builds and it seems like a daze of happiness and realisation. There is something juvenile and school-aged about the song. The hero repeats the question and, in the way it is delivered and does not move on, it has that infantile and cute nature to it. As the next verse comes into view; the hero talks about this soft embrace and the girl in front of him. She seems too good to be true and he is lost in this feeling. Again; the vocal returns to that calmer exterior but the composition remains firm and energised. The guitars and rums spiral whilst the production, remaining lo-fi and under-fed, gives the song a great flair of the 1990s. One can envisage the song fitting well into the scene in the latter part of the decade. As the hero talks about getting high – here, you feel it is literal – the girl would take a bite of his chocolate. Again; one hears the child-like innocence but that is mixed with something more herbal and grown-up. It is a modern slacker song and you can imagine the lovers in a smoky bedroom, chatting and carelessly entangled. There is sex and sweat but most of the song is about that new and exciting love; a bit mismatched and nervous. The two are quite different but they seem quite comfortable in their own skins. The hero has not felt this way for a while and seems relieved to have found someone who brings out new joy and challenged him. It is the overall sound and rawness of the track that amazes me. All the purity, elements and layers of the song seem more natural and real – if they were in a big studio; it would be glossy and lack that genuine nature. I love the song and am instantly transported back to the 1990s. Feels Like is a classic slice of guitar music that will see the band transcend from the local leagues and get them into the hearts of the national media.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Crowder
The guys are preparing to play at O2 Academy Newcastle with Japanese TV Club on 30th. In December, they play Jumpin’ Jack’s (3rd) and head to Little Buildings Rehearsal Rooms a week later. That is a broad mix of venues and some great local destinations – they are enthralling those of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and have just put out the video for Feels Like. Their touring schedule has been busy the last few months – the final gig of the year will be somewhere they feel a huge and deep connection with. Once they have wrapped things up in December; they will be looking for some quiet and relaxation before Christmas. I know they are already planning 2018 and where they might head. This year; they have played some great venues in the north and are happy inspiring the local crowds. I expect the boys to continue that into the New Year but, as their material gains new exposure, they will get some heat and affection from areas further south. I wonder whether they will plan a sojourn down here and take their music even further – maybe international dates are waiting. Can they get into the minds of audiences of the U.S.? Will there be big dates in London and plays on national radio? This is all possible so it is good the boys are completing a great year with some local gigs. I am not shocked they are playing great venues and getting a lot of respect from their folks. The music is among the freshest and finest out there right now. I have compared them with the likes of Pavement and Parquet Courts but, in truth, it is quite hard to compare Swine Tax with anyone too strongly. The reason the trio are so solid and innovative is the amount of time they get on stage. The audiences are reacting and the boys are learning new skills and disciplines from their performances.
I will end this by talking about Feels Like and what can come next for the trio. They have recorded and performed a lot this year so must be thinking about taking their music to the next stage. Maybe they are thinking about an album or E.P. in 2018. I know there is demand and a good way of getting into the national consciousness would be to bring out an E.P./album. I feel there are going to be loads of gigs but I feel 2018 will be the time they move from local heroes and start getting a lot more focus from the rest of the nation. I am happy the trio are making waves and finding rewards. Swine Tax should act as a guide to any band out there who are looking to make an impact and detach from the rather uninspired sounds of the mainstream. I know there are a few terrific acts in the mainstream but the best coming out are from the underground. There is too little invention and nuance from bands in the upper positions of music. The fresh breed emerging is showing promise and will change the dynamic: fewer solo artists getting all the praise; bands coming back to the fore and gaining ground. Swine Tax’s regency might be a few years away but they are showing positive signs. I have every faith Swine Tax will get to the mainstream and, when they do, there is a chance to make a real difference. For now – not getting ahead of ourselves! – Feels Like is out there and already getting a lot of praise. It is another sturdy and stunning track from a band who…
PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Hayles
END a terrific 2017 with a bang.
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