She Swings She Sways
Wasted Love Songs
A common sophomoric “insight” into music is that we only have 12 notes, and that this imposes some upper limit on the possibility of musical expression. It’s not like it’s hard to demolish this idea with combinatorial mathematics, but both the argument and refutation are beside the point when you consider music made by real musicians. The particular case of She Swings She Sways is one where a group constrains themselves to simple instrumentation, simple melodies and simple lyrics. In terms of musical choices and instrumentation, they use nothing that wasn’t available 200 years ago. Well there’s a bit of electric guitar, but I’ve no doubt they’d be every bit as charming without them. And while we’re on the subject of originality, what’s the deal with all these songs about love? There’s no subject so thoroughly chewed over in the course of human history, except perhaps the weather, and who writes songs about the weather?
Well these guys do–in “Highway” they sing “… the rain it was a constant, but the bed was deep and warm.” But even so the weather exists only in relation to what may be love, or lust, or just the awkward collision between a man and a woman. All the lyrical images on this CD–the aliens and nuclear explosions in “Flown The Coop,” “Highways'” geographical specifics, only exist to fix the frame around the messy business of love. And for all the heart-on-sleeve earnest of the narrators here, the connection to the beloved is missed as often as it’s made, and when it’s made, it’s mostly fleeting. I think the point is that love isn’t simple, even as one sings of it in simply constructed songs of three or four strummed chords. I boil it down to “love isn’t simple,” but She Swing She Sways spins it out at greater length, with subtlety and humor. “I have murdered your sweet trust – now I’m burning in my lust, even so, even so–you are mine.” The ambiguity, danger, madness or perhaps deep abiding love contained in that sentence cuts deep, in words of one or two syllables.
As to what this music sounds like…well it’s simple, without being trite. The spare arrangements allow the voices and instruments to each stand out clearly. The predominant style is modern folk pop, with nods to country music, but without commercial country music’s bathos. Guitars, voice and understated dominate, but touches of lap steel, mandolin, and trumpet enlarge the palette, always in support of the song. For an album that is the group’s answer and challenge to Magnetic Fields “69 Love Songs,” it manages to be audacious in it’s artistic ambition while keeping to a perhaps peculiarly Iowan modesty. “Wasted Love Songs” is brilliantly easy on the ears, but once the emotional payload is delivered, it’s anything but an easy listen. And “wasted?” Not hardly.