Paul Nederostek usually has a solid band line-up backing him in Charleston band Dead Swells, but 2020 hasn’t been the most solid of years for anyone making music. When it came time to record their new album, the majority of studio work fell into his lap alone. Drumming duties fell between Oleg Terentiev and Wolfgang Zimmerman (who also co-produced), but Nederostek handled pretty much everything else himself except for some scattered backing vocals. The resulting self-titled release doesn’t immediately hit the listener as a “non-live” record, partly because Paul tried not to sample or loop his in-studio instrumental parts as much as possible and partly because his fun and adventurous outlook on mixing kept things fresh for both him and probably any listener who notices these things. There are a lot of shifts in the sound with mixes going between hifi and lofi and Nederostek describes his direction in mixing thusly: “So you have to try and break all your own rules that you’re kind of learning, or choose what rules to break”. The result is a collection of tracks that are all obviously the work of one person but each song comes in with its own identity and sometimes the change can be a good punch in the gut to keep the listener interested.
With its tough as nails bass intro, “SUMMERNAKEDHEAT” dances back and forth between Daft Punk-style funky electro and throwback synthy R&B, ala Spandau Ballet. The lo-fi swirling trance of “MLD” sails on a sea of shimmering keys and Dead Swells featured a full band lineup in the video for the track HERE. The murky mix on “Jealous” suits its weirdo vibe; strange repetitive backing vocals become a driving part of the percussion and then out of nowhere, sweet jazzy guitar licks smack you around. “DIFFerently” would fit in on any LCD Soundsystem record and although the band says they didn’t aim for an ’80s sound, they nailed it expertly on “Always Thinking Bout It“, wherein start and stop synths and a catchy chorus bring back the heyday of bands like ABC. “LIP” is an underwater swim and the swirling, groovy funk of “Out of the Window” makes me long for the days when Mike Patton got this soulful. The effects-laden guitar of “FLOW” is a jarring change-up but it fits the grooving rock. Closer “IDK”, with its relaxed falsetto has an actual ear-worm of a guitar melody and then they take the groove down a dirty notch for some Steely Dan inspired guitar licks. It’s quite a journey through all nine tracks.
One of the things I’m most impressed with from Dead Swells is how they take a style of music that is often computer generated copypasta and own it through creative and exceptional live playing of real instruments. It can really be hard to find that in modern music sometimes and its appreciated here. Nederostek makes it hard to pigeonhole the band or its sound through excellent experiments with mixing techniques, as well and its fun to watch him develop his sound in real time, track by track. Give Dead Swells a listen over at Spotify or you can purchase a digital copy at the ever reliable Bandcamp.
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.