Album Review: Swervedriver - 'I Wasn't Born To Lose You'

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People love to discuss the origin of the term "shoegaze." The general consensus is that the term described a scene of dozens of bands at the turn of the 1990's that used a large battery of guitar effects and a blissed-out aesthetic.

The bands were known to stand still and look down at their shoes letting the music do the major lifting.

The term shoegaze also has a literal meaning in that the guitarists were always fiddling with their foot pedals meaning that they indeed had to gaze at their shoes for long stretches of their live shows.

The era-defining cultural-impacting classic will forever be My Bloody Valentine's 1991 opus Loveless. What Nevermind was to grunge, Loveless was to shoegaze.

The weird thing being that those two classics were released in the same calendar year and couldn't farther apart on the spectrum.

Formed in Oxford in the 1980's Swervedriver originally mirrored the crusty garage rock of The Stooges until singer Adam Franklin started to become obsessed with contemporary American guitar rock.

Sounds emitting from the distorted amps of Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr inspired Adam to start amassing a huge collection of guitar effects and foot pedals.

So the newly minted shoegaze genre was more of a scene they were associated with instead of an influence.

Swervedriver was able to use that scene to help get lots of coverage in English magazines like Q, Select and Melody Maker and the publicity allowed them to hop on lots of tours as the opening act. Franklin and company released a series of highly successful EPs before collecting them on their debut album Raise in 1991.

Another thing that set them apart from the pack was Franklin's obsession with American muscle cars.

After the release of 1993's Mezcal Head album the guys hit the road with The Smashing Pumpkins and Shudder To Think and gained an American following with their super-catchy single "Last Train To Satansville."

However, the whole 90's music business cliche took place soon after. The major label (Creation) that so enthusiastically signed the band in the wake of the success of shoe gaze and grunge began to lose interest.

Stilted recording sessions mixed with pushed-back releases really put a wrench in the works and the band released two more albums to diminishing returns.

Fast forward to 2008. The guys reunite for some shows. The spark is still there.

Enough music business cycles had taken place to the point where Swervedriver's sound was now being emulated by countless younger bands like the Arctic Monkeys and their ilk.

The guys reissued Raise and Mezcal Head to an interested new generation of noise-mongers.

The guys took their time to release the brand new album "I Wasn't Born To Lose You." The blurred, technicolored album cover brings you back to the first articles written about them in the early 90s. The album itself is a beautiful rendering of the strongest aspects of the first four albums. The teutonic, repetitive grooves are so hypnotizing they seem to build a head of steam without effort.

However, a closer listens reveals endless details.

Like the jagged yet soft ringing guitar riffs on the opener "Autodidact" and how the time signature changes with the ease of well-worn jazz combo.

Franklin's voice seems comfortable with becoming one with the hazy production, his gorgeous tenor blending in with the riffage.

Album stand out "English Subtitles" sounds like Roger McGuinn on Molly and that turns out to be a wonderful thing. The track captures the innocence of youth while giving you a melody you will be humming for weeks. Jangle-pop meets a widescreen production style and all of the sudden its 1988 and you are on summer vacation again.

"Red Queen Arms Race" breaks through the sepia-toned haze with a sludgy guitar figure and loud-as-hell Bonham-esque drum beats.

Swervedriver always flirted with metal here and there and this track reminds you that they can get loud. Other moments like "Everso" prefer momentum over volume and they take you to Church slowly but surely.

All in all, I Wasn't Born To Lose You is a beautiful surprise of a reunion album. It sounds like it took years to perfect. When My Bloody Valentine returned 22 years after Loveless the expectations people had built up sort of overshadowed the great-but-not-Loveless MBV album in 2013.

However, Swervedriver didn't have an epoch-defining album to match, so I Wasn't Born To Lose You seems like a stronger comeback salvo.

With its jangly momentum and hushed-but-loud dynamics this album is certainly one of the best rock releases I have heard in months. I give I Wasn't Born To Lose You 4 and 1/2 Empty Lighthouses out of 5.

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