The Swims | Ride Of The Blueberry Winter (Prison Jazz)

Just when the listener starts to think that the band has painted itself into a stylistic corner with its rainbow brushes, the album’s second half intersperses some different flavors amongst the lollipops and pixie sticks.

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The Elephant 6 Institute of Songwriting in Athens, Ga., has emerged from humble beginnings to become the preeminent training ground for young, upstart bands looking to hone their saccharine melodies to a fine edge. The Institute’s crack team of professors works tirelessly in instructing these groups how to chew up the moldy pop bubblegum of yesteryear and spit it back out in new and thoroughly delightful shapes.

The Swims recently completed their undergraduate term of study at E6IS, majoring in ’60s pop worship with a Nuggets minor. Judging from their full-length debut, Ride of the Blueberry Winter, I think it’s safe to say that they finished near the head of their class.

Lead track “C’moff It” shows the band letting its school colors fly proudly, riding a spacey farfisa groove straight to the “quasar curls” of singer Brian Langan’s ever-anonymous love interest. Spiced with plenty of references to colorful fruit, the lyrics could very well have come from a lost volume of The Complete Masterworks of the Banana Splits. Yes, cynics, beware: It’s all psychedelic sunshine here. Still, the content isn’t entirely without substance. With “C’moff It,” the Swims use their childish singsong to mask genuine romantic frustration, and the result is a giddy romp of an opening number.

The rest of the album’s opening section plays like a rundown of pop moods. “Blood in the Lanai” bounces about with a “Bungalow Bill”–style sing-along, “We Need Lava” is a straight sugar charge for Saturday morning cartoon enthusiasts, and “Sara Jean” provides a snapshot of the adolescent confusion that so often underscores pop’s DayGlo exterior.

Just when the listener starts to think that the band has painted itself into a stylistic corner with its rainbow brushes, the album’s second half intersperses some different flavors amongst the lollipops and pixie sticks. An admirable move, yes, but most of these diversions come across either as filler or ill-fated experiments. “Knitting and Knitting,” for example, tinkers with longer-form songwriting, but just ends up sounding like it showed up at the wrong party.

Throughout the record, the group maintains the level of pep and sheer goofiness that their style of choice demands. As imitative as things can get at times (check that “Strawberry Fields” orchestra on “What Place of Man”), I’ve still got a sweet tooth for this sort of music. To bash this group simply because they don’t manage anything spectacularly inventive, I believe, would be the critical equivalent of clubbing a baby harp seal.

Sure, they still aren’t anywhere close to the masterworks of their Elephant 6 gurus, but the Swims remain pupils whose hearts are in the right place. They wholeheartedly believe in the power of hooky melodies, tambourine tracks, and unfiltered exuberance. A little more polishing of their technique, and the Swims could be ready to write their dissertation.

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