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Excavation time in the us underground. And to San Francisco on this occasion ...

EXCAVATION TIME IN THE US underground. And to San Francisco on this occasion: cut through the surface, past the beautiful people, those chiselled [I]Tales Of The City[/I] lovelies, and head straight for the more salubrious bars, where in all probability we’ll find Swell. Here we hit upon an eight-year-old seam rich in gently fried West Coast songsmithery. It’s a seam worth digging, all told, though one rarely dug.

‘For All The Beautiful People’ (sarcasm by Americans. Good) is the mild-mannered trio’s fifth album and, like its predecessors, it ploughs an engaging furrow through drowsy, largely acoustic mild psychedelia.

This time, though, the songwriting core of guitarist and vocalist David Freel and bassist Monte Vallier have fleshed out their slo-fi rumblings with sparks of keyboard trickery and, intriguingly on ‘Make Up Your Mind’, recorded some cows sheltering from a thunderstorm. For these unfazeable souls at least, this almost constitutes a radical new direction.

Fortunately, Swell’s tremulous mastery of loose, narcotic pop overshadows these experimental ventures. Through the course of the album we are dragged through Freel’s consistently nonplussed psyche – girlfriends are, he growls, [I]”something to do”[/I] – and it’s a strange, compelling trip. Disillusioned rather than bitter, Freel is the eternal pessimist – it just so happens that Swell’s records get better as he becomes more jaded. And, as Elliott Smith’s battered guitar and bleeding heart missives have shown, everyone loves life’s losers.

Dig deep, then. You won’t be disappointed. Leave that part to Swell.