After enduring being tragically undersold through the entirety of the mid-2000s pop punk boom, The Swellers, always a bit too mature and perhaps too abrasive to fit in with the likes of Paramore and Panic! At The Disco, whom they used to share a label with in Fueled By Ramen, may finally hit their stride after signing to rising star No Sleep Records. Now rubbing shoulders with recent surprise success stories Balance & Composure and Touche Amore, on The Light Under Closed Doors, they seem to be right at home, distancing themselves from cheesy Hot Topic punk and even, at least as far as the music is concerned, from the Defend Pop Punk scene occupied by Man Overboard and The Wonder Years (who, ironically enough, occupied space on the label until recently), straying more towards Tigers Jaw’s thinking man’s brand of pop-punk, hinting at the dissonance of contemporary post-hardcore bands (the chord progression on “Got Social” is remarkably similar to Balance & Composure’s “Notice Me”) while still opting for the big choruses and catchy riffs that have been a trademark of their sound for the entirety of their career.
Part of the reason that The Swellers do so well here is that they take influence some really great sources. Traces of Alkaline Trio, Weezer, and Saves The Day can all be heard here, although they take the shortcomings as well as the triumphs of those bands. “Designated Driver,” along with the obvious alcohol connection to Alkaline Trio, bears some signs of that band’s meandering melancholy that can make it seem a bit on the dramatic side. But it’s not enough to drag this record down, and in reality the band’s sound is more than the sum of its parts.
At times anthemic, at others brooding and full of angst, the songs on this album are as broad as they are deep. “Got Social” is an emo power ballad for the ages, with stunning indictments like “you got social and I/know exactly where you’re going now” bearing the mark of misanthropic betrayal the likes of which would make Chris Carrabba blush. Standout “Great Lakes State,” is probably as close as the band has come to producing a definitive statement. Hyperbolic statements of love and infatuation intertwined with references to Midwestern landmarks are about as pop punk as you get these days without directly mentioning pizza in the lyrics, but mix of power and gracious melody is so distinctly of this band, and particularly of this era of the band – bold enough to be simple without losing the meaning in the face of impending immaturity, it’s a promise of great things to come. Album closer “Call It A Night” is a perfect counterpart to that track. It’s more of a slow burn, but it’s one that pays off, drawing its power from anticipation rather than direct aggression like “Great Lakes State.” There’s also “High/Low,” which is, the lead single, which is an odd choice because it is probably the least kinetic track on the album, but it has some distinct Weezer-esque charm that will grows on you with each listen, and probably has the most staying power of any of the tracks.
The Swellers aren’t reinventing the wheel with The Light Under Closed Doors, but they’re really close, and at the very least they’re a band that seem to have found themselves after years of struggling to find a good fit. While it has its imperfections, the album is more than solid, and goes far beyond what a lot of pop punk bands are willing to do these days.
Recommended Tracks: Got Social, High/Low, Great Lakes State, Call It A Night