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Swale, A Small Arrival 

Album Review

click to enlarge 618cd-swale.jpg

(Self-released, CD, digital download)

When I asked Eric Olsen of Swale why his band’s latest release, A Small Arrival, has been more or less shelved for the past seven years, he responded that after the album was completed, the band “got caught up in an extended ticker-tape parade of sorrow and joy.” At first this seemed like an awkward and ambiguous answer. But the more I’ve listened to A Small Arrival, the more I’ve begun to understand what Olsen meant. This is one of the most genuine — and genuinely great — albums to come out of the Burlington music scene since 2005.

The songs that make up the record are either gently ambient, thoughtfully composed rockers or gut-wrenchingly beautiful piano ballads. On first listen, the gap between these two styles seems dramatic. But the dichotomy — like a parade of sorrow and joy — is essential to Swale’s overall presentation.

At its most derivative, A Small Arrival is reminiscent of Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2/Magnolia days — especially on Amanda Gustafson’s “If You Get Lost” and “Overcoat” — and, dare I say, it’s just as good. These ballads contain honest lyrics and are executed perfectly over the loneliest, loveliest keys.

Let me stop here and say that this album is a tough one to write about. With every listen, I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into these sad songs.

I’m beginning to see why this album wasn’t rush released and immediately backed by countless live performances, though it’s undoubtedly an album to stand behind. The answer to the question I asked Olsen is contained in every single track: Rushing in just wasn’t an option. These songs demanded to be worn in first.

Swale is composed of the kind of people who take in all the shit life throws at them and then just sit with it for a while. As they make clear on A Small Arrival, sometimes you just have to let life’s dramas sleep and wake with you. Or, to quote the album directly, “Bittersweet is the taste of life.”

Swale play the BCA Center in Burlington this Friday, November 2, with the Luyas.

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