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CD Review: Soft Swells



The soundtrack to the Occupy Movement has been rich and varied, encompassing everything from the living blues of hip-hop to old-school anthems like Patti Smith's "People have the Power." To that mix I would add Soft Swells, the self-titled debut from California-by-way-of-Brooklyn based duo Tim Williams and Matt Welsh. Bright and adventurous guitar pop may not seem like a fit for Occupy, but according to lyricist and gifted storyteller Williams, Soft Swells is concerned with "control ... and how that affects your life."

Indeed, Williams and Welch took control of their outreach when they participated in "Knock and Rock," wherein bands knocked on strangers' doors and asked to be admitted in their homes to bash out a few tunes. Call it "Occupy Living Room." It's not just that Soft Swells' marketing is of the moment. With lyrics that reference setbacks and bouncing back, they mirror the concerns of the millennial generation that has been most ravaged by the crooked casino run by Wall Street and Washington.

But politics here is impressionistic, not didactic. And it is delivered with sweetly soaring melodies, open earnest vocals, solid thwacking percussion and production as thick and luxurious as crushed velvet. Retro synths get in the mix on the plaintive and angsty "Every Little Thing" and the jaunty acoustic guitar driven "Lifeboats." Like their name, Soft Swells ride uneasily atop a dark riptide, particularly on the moody and driving "Don't Cut it Off." With its dueling double vocal lines, it's a sublime pop gem that skirts the shadows. But the disc's thematic centerpiece is the bipolar rocker "Shake it Off." Over a bouncy Cars-meets-The-Cure backing track, Williams sings, "Shake it off. Turn it up. It's time to save your life."

Is Occupy in retreat, or merely resting and recouping? It's hard to know, but Williams and Welch seem to be saying that despite the darkness, the world is beautiful when we take control of our lives.

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