Shoegaze Pioneers Swirlies Don't Suck

Swirlies play their first West Coast dates in 14 years in support of vinyl reissue

For Swirlies vocalist and guitarist Damon Tutunjian, “the quest for flowery language drives people to write horrible reviews.”

I can’t say I disagree.

“[Writing about music] shouldn’t be a poetry or fiction competition … I would prefer just some short review telling you if it sucks or not,” he added when I spoke to him and bassist Andy Bernick over the phone on Monday morning.

Case in point: When Pitchfork contributor Meg Zamula directed her purple prose at the band in the early ‘00s, Swirlies decided to have a little fun with it by releasing a light-hearted retaliatory EP called “Winsome Zamula’s Hammer of Contumely.”

“We didn’t actually write new songs for it. We pretty much just renamed songs from a previous album,” Tutunjian said.

So, maybe if I play my cards right, I can get a new Swirlies album out of this -- which would be great, considering they are one of the pioneering bands of American shoegaze.

Formed in Boston in 1990, Swirlies released their seminal debut album “Blonder Tongue Audio Baton” (1993) just two years after My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” (1991) saw critical acclaim and one year after Lilys’ “In the Presence of Nothing” (1992) followed suit.

(Side note: Tutunjian is the uncredited whistler on Lilys’ second album, “Eccsame the Photon Band,” and you can read my interview with Lilys' Kurt Heasley here.)

Ironically, “Blonder Tongue Audio Baton” was ranked No. 11 on Pitchfork’s list of the 50 best shoegaze albums of all time, and now Swirlies are playing their first West Coast dates in 14 years to support the 25-year anniversary vinyl reissue of the album (sorry, it's all sold out online).

But unlike their British counterparts in My Bloody Valentine, Swirlies are a little more raw and freeform in approach.

Tutunjian and Bernick seemed to favor the word “twinkly” as an adjective for what most call “shoegaze,” but I don’t think that quite captures the essence of Swirlies in particular.

“Twinkly” might fit Danish progressive dream-pop outfit Mew, with whom Tutunjian has worked since he produced their debut album in the late ‘90s, but “jangly” is a bit more appropriate for Swirlies. They have a loose and unpredictable energy about them; they’re like My Bloody Valentine’s rambunctious step-brother who’s really into punk-rock.

Accordingly, as Bernick suggested cheekily, Swirlies make “music your mom won’t like.”

And all that to say … It doesn’t suck. 

Swirlies play Space Bar on Thursday, Aug. 3. You can get tickets here and hope they have merch left to sell you.

Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. Whoops. He now plays in the Lulls and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.

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