Review: Swissfarlo – Boxed

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy March 31, 2003

Imagine that you’re in high school again.

You’re making a mix tape for some acquaintance and decide, among the usual favorite selections, to toss on a song from a local band who’ve just self-released a demo tape. You’ve heard the band play live a bunch of times at local venues, and they always seem to get the crowd moving and engaged in their songs. Why not?

When you play back the tape, though, the band and their catchy songs seem to pale in comparison to the work that surrounds them.

Sound familiar? This is the tragedy of Swissfarlo’s Boxed.

What may be the biggest let-down about Boxed, the debut from the Cincinnati-based lo-fi quartet, is that some strong indie pop and rock songs seem to get lost in a recording that’s poorly executed and inconsistent.

Swissfarlo seems to have a good handle on the two-guitar pop formula, and during their finer moments, they sound like a rougher, more lo-fi version of Weezer. But these finer moments are often surrounded by lackluster transitional material and muddy, flat sound levels that keep the proceedings just a half step above a hometown demo tape.

On most of the songs, the band’s entire rhythm section is dropped so low into the mix that you sometimes will find yourself straining to hear anything but a hi-hat cymbal and an occasional bass note floating somewhere beyond a wall of fuzzy guitars. While some bands can convey the emotional weight of their work despite recording limitations, Swissfarlo seem to lack the necessary lo-fi charm that their debut frequently demands.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the record is a disaster. The direct but tender acoustic approach of “Roman Candle” is alarmingly sweet, even moreso because it is surrounded by distortion-drenched guitar pop. It is here that the band’s core members – vocalist/guitarist Tim Heyl and guitarist Andy Kroner – display an engaging chemistry, something that will speak to musicians who know what it feels and sounds like to paste together emotive pop-rock songs in a basement or garage.

Elsewhere, sugary-sweet pop moments prevail where you wouldn’t expect them. Things like the “wo-oh-uh-oh” vocals of “And I Digress” (the only track on the record written solely by bassist/vocalist Matt Gossett) may be one of the small details of the record that keeps it moving. What follows “And I Digress,” though, is another indication of how the record lacks consistency. While the sloppy pseudo-punk of “Yr Mine,” “Simple Faults,” and “Expect Finer” is an interesting antithesis to the band’s more poppy tracks, it makes Boxed feel like the document of a band still searching, still trying to find itself.

Between the verses of “Coil,” Swissfarlo launches into a two-guitar instrumental assault, bending distorted high notes into a frenzied give-and-take guitar solo that hints at both surf-punk and rockabilly.

On the album-closing “2nd or 3rd,” there are similar points where everything falls into place, points where Heyl’s vocals float above two wandering guitar lines and hit the mark dead-on. It’s moments like this, however, that illustrate how incomplete and inconsistent the record can be.

Hey, Kroner and company can clearly write a sharp indie pop, song and that – despite concerns with the pros and cons of a lo-fi recording – is documented on Boxed. If nothing else, the band’s Datawaslost debut will hopefully be a warm-up for some great material in the future.

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