Time loves the Swervies. Fifteen years on from the initial release of Swervedriver’s sophomore offering, Mezcal Head, and the record is still as relentless as ever. Picking up where Raise left off, Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge expanded the band’s sound with studio trickery and extra tracks (jumping from 24 to 48 equals holy shit wow!). Opener “For Seeking Heat” still starts off like a match igniting a fuse with a slow burn and then exploding into the first riff, hard and heavy, giving way to the middle riff that punches and pulverizes its way off into the horizon. “Duel” is vintage SWD, all chunky bass line and fuzzy riff and a seesawing between the two. “MM Abduction” is a little bit of a product of its time, with a Cobain-like lilt reminiscent of Nirvana’s “Drain You.” “Last Train to Satansville” is a surf bass line gone creepy, but the song is totally fun and actually kind of poppy and infectious.
Most of the songs on the album are recognizably Swervedriver, relentless and driving beats with melodic bass lines that beg to be hummed more so than the vocal lines. The songs rush by with elbows sticking out, knocking you to the ground in their frenzy. If you like one, you’ll like them all. But then comes “Duress,” probably the most remarkable and striking song they’ve written. The opening is eerie and cold, like needles of rain spiking onto a window, and it builds slowly and contemplatively, the bass asking questions that don’t necessarily need answers. Franklin doesn’t start singing until the track is about halfway over, the bass providing the voice and the guitars providing the waves it rides on. This song is where their shoegaze reputation stems from, even though most of their songs are relentless guitar attacks.
In the liner notes to this reissue, Hartridge says that “Never Lose That Feeling” is like a bridge between Raise and Mezcal Head because it was written during the Raise era and gestated while they toured the record. Indeed it is, as the song combines the relentlessness of the first record with the expanse of the second. However, “Planes Over the Skyline” and “The Hitcher” also combine these elements and tie the two records together like a ribbon on a package. As much as these three songs are products of both records, “Car Crash in Paris,” with its dreamy and lazy bass line and meandering guitars, hints at the lush gorgeousness that was to come on Adam Franklin’s work with the Bolts of Melody Band. Franklin has always had an ear for melody, though it was often channeled through the bass. This song lets the guitar ring out and sing instead, a beautiful and striking swerve away from the fuzz.