The indie pop supergroup return with a terrific album that stares unflinchingly in the face of the modern world
If you read press releases for a living, it’ll start to seem like everyone formed a band and made a record in lockdown. I home-schooled my kids, made a lot of sourdough and drank so much wine I ended up apologising to the guy in my local wine shop. Oh well, it’s too late now. Still, it’s hard to complain though about the glut of records and new bands when they’re still sustaining us three years later. Even harder to complain when it all resulted in Swansea Sound.
Swansea Sound formed during lockdown, assembling members of Catenary Wires, Heavenly, Talulah Gosh, The Pooh Sticks and more. It’s a veritable treasure trove of C86 pop, like the 1992 USA men’s basketball but if they were all in twee indie bands. Recording virtually, songs beamed from Cardiff to Kent and back again, Swansea Sound eventually arrived at their stellar debut Live From The Rum Puncheon in 2021. En route, they pressed a solitary copy of their single ‘I Sold My Soul On eBay’ and sold it for £400, on eBay. That alone says more about the band than anything else in this paragraph.
For album number two, Twentieth Century, Hue Williams, Amelia Fletcher, Rob Pursey, Ian Button et al. have set their sights on the titular time period and how its supposed achievements have scuppered the 21st century. It’s less “old man shouting at cloud” and more Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Williams and Fletcher regularly playing the roles of two holdouts against the march towards oblivion.
Throughout the album, connections are forged and destroyed by technology, like the online dater yearning for his digital paramour on ‘Paradise’ while miners die in far flung mines to create the smartphone that can’t cure his loneliness. Or the subconscious connection between the consumer and the warehouse worker on ‘Click It And Pay’. These connections persist even across separate songs, like the old punk activist too softened by time and comfort on ‘Twentieth Century’ and the ageing rock god rendered obsolete on ‘Punish The Young’, both blaming the people who got them there but have no use for them anymore.
If that sounds pretty heavy, it’s not. It can’t be all doom and gloom when it’s set to energetic, melodic indie pop that occasionally wanders into Buzzcocks-esque punk. On the peppy ‘Seven In The Car’, Swansea Sound celebrate the simple joy of packing all your mates into one car and heading to see an indie band in a tiny venue. It’s exuberant and energising, much like ‘Pack The Van’ which taps into nostalgia as a force for good, much like a song that briefly drags someone out of a catatonic state.
Swansea Sound resolutely live what they preach. Their devotion to the sounds that begat their other bands, their scepticism of mindless progress, it all creates a record that sounds like a classic while asking questions that are utterly contemporary and will strike a chord with anyone who grew up analogue. After all, what if we’re not marching towards something new but marching away from something better? Twentieth Century is proof that some things don’t need to change.