Years Active: 27 (with sporadic breaks).
Provenance: Boston/Cambridge, MA.
Essential Albums: Blonder Tongue Audio Baton, They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons, and Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music.
Essential Songs: “San Cristobal de la Casas,” “Tall Ships,” “Pancake,” “House of Pancake,” “Upstairs,” “In Harmony New Found Freedom,” “Sounds of Sebring,” “Sunn,” “Sarah Sitting,” “Her Life of Artistic Freedom,” “Didn’t Understand,” “Chris R.,” “Bell,” “Vigilant Always,” “His Love Just Washed Away,” “Park the Car by the Side,” “Trudy.”
Influenced by: My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Slowdive, Pixies.
Influence on: Lilys, Starflyer 59, Asobi Seksu, A Place to Bury Strangers, Whirr, Ringo Deathstarr, Jetman Jet Team.
Precautions: Original guitarist/vocalist Seana Carmody is no longer with Swirlies, which is a damn shame, as her singing helped to define the group's tartly sweet sound as crucially as Bilinda Butcher's did for MBV. But trust head Swirlie Damon Tutunjian to find a suitable replacement, as Deb Warfield of Gold Muse will chip in on vocals, guitar, and keyboards.
Why You Should Give a Fuck: If you're an aficionado of shoegaze rock—the kind of fanatic who's watched Eric Green's 2014 documentary Beautiful Noise with rapt adoration and knows the catalog numbers of every Creation Records release from 1990 to 1995—then you should immerse yourself in Swirlies' medium-sized and remarkably consistent discography.
With key members Damon Tutunjian and Seana Carmody emerging from a Go-Go's cover band called Raspberry Bang (seriously), Swirlies quickly rose to semi-prominence in 1992 with the Blonder Tongue Audio Baton LP, Didn't Understand 7-inch, and What to Do About Them EP. All of these releases—you guessed it!—swam in the slipstream of shoegaze deities My Bloody Valentine's post–You Made Me Realise output. But Swirlies swerved at the shoegaze subgenre with a lower-fidelity'd charm, a greater sense of mischief with tape manipulations, and maybe even a more reckless angularity and unpredictability than did Kevin Shields and company.
No question: Tutunjian and Carmody's laid-back vocal sparring and their complementary layering of dulcet tones mirror those of MBV's Shields and Butcher. But this development strikes me more as serendipity than blatant homage. Even if it were the latter, though, the world needs all of the yin-yang lustrousness and undulant "OOOoooOOO"s it can get. What kind of monster can't appreciate a loving battle of the sexes on the mic?
Anomalies? Swirlies have some. “Labrea Tarpit” sounds like Amon Düül I’s minimalist, bongo-powered hippie jams, albeit completed in under two minutes. “House of Pancake” comes across like the sort of triphop/twee-indie-rock showdown in which the late, great Seattle label Slabco used to specialize. “Sneaky Flutes 5” is a bizarre, miniature piece full of silvery oscillations and Speak & Spell–like babble. There are more, if you’re diligent enough to dig.
How about Swirlies' lyrics? Honestly, I can't recall a single one right now. All that sticks in the brain are those gentle coos, mumbly murmurs, and exquisitely elongated vowels, which coalesce into their own special class of instrument. They work as inchoate vessels of hazy emotion, and that's sufficient with music this extraordinary. Honestly, who actually wants to parse verses when you're being buffeted by hurricanes of sugary melody and tempests of audaciously distorted guitars? Go to Genius.com if you really need to know. They do upstanding work over there.