You know that saying, “The sum is greater than the parts?” It means that when you add a bunch of things together, the resulting amount is greater than what you thought you’d get when you first started. You see this played out all of the time in the world. Think about it… doesn’t it seem really strange that something as simple as a hollow wooden box with strings can create such strong emotional responses in us. A rock trio, just playing guitar, bass, and drums, is often capable of generating sounds far more powerful than you thought possible. It’s one of those things that makes music music.
But then we come across a band like The Swells. At initial listen, it sounds like all of the parts are there, all of the chemicals are there to create a great-sounding concoction. The dreamy, echoing guitars of Slowdive; the laidback vocals of a young Neil Halstead; even some cool electronic noodlings à la Tortoise. You put in the CD, and initially, you’re thinking “This could be another worthy addition to my dreampop collection.”
But then you start to notice something. The parts are all there, but the sum is exactly equal to the ingredients. The music just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. And it’s not for lack of trying. But maybe it’s because they try to hard. Vocalist David Malerba has the lazy vocals, but at times, they’re too lazy, like he’s trying to hard to sound lethargic and just crosses over to dull without even being aware of it, especially on “Smiling Eyes.” The opening song, “And She Fades” (now isn’t that a swell dreampop title?) just slides around with it’s watery guitars, but just doesn’t leave an impression.
The band’s electronica trips (which make up the last half of the CD) are a little more interesting, but they still come across as a watered down Seefeel or something. “Totals and Sums” (one of the better tracks) actually comes very close to a Pygmalion sound or even hearkens back to the celestial days of “Souvlaki Space Station.” Now maybe I’m being a little too picky, because I know some people would listen to this and say “This sounds just like all of those other ‘shoegazer’ bands you listen to” and therein lies the problem. The Swells have heart, but they just don’t inject enough of it into their music. It comes off as too nice, too pleasant, and too clichéd.