As many a wise old sage will tell you (especially if you lace their hands with enough of them), even the shiniest coin has a darker side to it. Last year saw another sacrificial offering from The Sways in the form of a balmy, barmy latest album, but with this coin it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the head or the tail that hides the deepest shadow. For ‘International Orange’ is a curious thing, where the listener’s habitual act of old (i.e. having to turn over the LP halfway through) is here used to show two distinct sides of themselves – one being all-out twang psychosis, and one being more subdued, but nevertheless still unnerving, taut fragility.
It’s the barking side of things we get first, with ‘part one’ (the 'Go!' part) coming across like the most sinister thing your humble correspondent has tapped his toes along to all year. And, whilst it hardly trounced ‘Funeral’ in the maelstrom of year-closing album polls, it’s still one of the most arresting albums from the last twelve months’ worth of underground guitar music. It’s alt.country of a sort, the type that goes past the established broodiness of Handsome Family, Broken Family Band and the like, and into twitchy, bug-eyed freak outbursts that aren’t entirely unlike The Bad Seeds on a treadmill. Even when there’s a bit of energetic simmering down in ‘Euan’, the all-too-calm delivery of lines like “I think about you getting up and getting dressed... breathing in and breathing out” is still enough to get the spine a-trembling. All this, too, before singer Mike Fell goes back into his trademark bluegrass-man-meets-Zippy-from-Rainbow squawk. Most of the time there’s a sense of perverse curiosity that keeps the first part so appealing, for instance the imposing double bass and guitar volatility on ‘The Call Of The Bear’ and the occasional moment of relative serenity keeping the entire experience on edge... even if by the point of seventh track ‘The Riddle Of Llaslek Mot’ that edge is not as sharp as it was initially.
Playing Jekyll to Part One’s Hyde is, as logic would suggest for a game of two halves, Part Two. Seeing as it is dubbed the 'Easy' part it displays a much calmer exterior, but it is by no means relaxed. ‘Clockwork Farm’ still broods and twitches, and still gives off the feeling of intimidation even when the volume is turned down. ‘The Snare’, in a hushed sort of way, flows gently from the speakers, lilting softly and sweetly despite the twinge of paranoia underlying it. ‘The Carbonate Ballet’ meanwhile, as lulling and poetic as the name suggests, webs a pizzicato coil around your senses even with unsettling lines like “I should be holding you, loving you, watching you drown”. In all, the only marked contrast between the two parts is that one is gnashing its teeth in your face and the other is flashing you a wry smile, with blood on the lips. Maybe because of this, the second part seems to stand up better as a set of songs, being such a welcome calm after Part One's brutal storm. But either way, as the charming outro bids you farewell before a deceiving extra track, it’s evident that The Sways have put together something a bit special here. And remember kids, it’s the quiet ones you need to keep an eye on...
8Thomas Blatchford's Score