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The Swansea Mass - Silver Venus / Chessy

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Artist: The Swansea Mass

Album: Silver Venus / Chessy

Label: Loud Devices

Review date: Sep. 2, 2004

The Swansea Mass make their debut with this two-song 7" EP, featuring a nice black-on-silver cover drawn by Plastic Crimewave/Galactic Zoo Dossier head-honcho Steve Krakow. Apparently the group was a trio, but for the recording they expanded to a four-piece, adding a lead guitarist - a wise choice, I suspect, as there's a density that would be missed without the second guitar.

"Silver Venus," the A-side, could be called pure shoegazer, if that label means anything anymore. The body of the song is floating, crystalline guitar over a slow, bass-heavy rhythm. Jeff Rufo's rhythm guitar chimes through a wash of reverb, while Pavan Singh's leads echo into the distance. The song's not so awash that it lacks substance, however, a common mistake with atmospheric pop bands. Rufo's vocals sit back in the mix, confident but not overbearing, though while they get the job done I'd have to say that they're not the most memorable element here. When the song ebbs, it retreats into a textural background; when it flows, the drums pick up steam and the guitars thicken into a thick haze through which Singh's lead just raises its heads above the surface.

The flip side, "Chessy," is quite a different sort of thing. It reminds me somewhat of Dream Syndicate, with its Velvets-tinged jagged rhythm guitar. Rufo's vocal here is quite changed from "Silver Venus," very dry and low, almost like it's spoken. He's a bit like a pop Tom Waits, while the song bounces along behind him at a relatively fast clip. Singh's lead guitar here is brittle and thin over a spare, accurate rhythm section. The song as a whole breathes in a more open manner than side A; that is, until partway through, when everything suddenly thickens, like the walls closing in.

The two songs here show a surprising breadth, but they're different enough that they also make me wonder which one really represents the band's direction. Guess we'll have to wait for an album to find out.

By Mason Jones

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