The sixth studio album by U.K. shoegaze outfit Swervedriver is a dynamic musical exploration of modernist dystopia. It is the second new record from the band since reuniting in 2013, building on their 2015 comeback I Wasn’t Born to Lose You with a more experimental spirit while still delivering all of the touchstones fans from their 90s heyday have come to expect. Though the end product isn’t overwhelmingly groundbreaking for the band, it is a thoroughly impressive album on its own merits, swinging easily between massive arena fuzz rock, expansive shoegaze, and 70s-inspired progressive rock tendencies.
At its core Future Ruins is an album envisioning the present day through the lens of 60s modernism. It juxtaposes the optimism of that time surrounding the future with the chaotic future that the Western world actually inherited. Much of this is done using iconic imagery from the golden era, referencing the Berlin Wall, advances in war technology, and a world made more accessible by feats of mechanical engineering yet a world growing increasingly divided. One of the most prominent and most repeated images is spacial exploration. This is incredibly fitting not only because the space race was perhaps the greatest beacon of hope for a generation hedging their future on technological progress, but also because it dually serves as a monument to human isolation in what is ironically the most connected era of our existence.
The opener, Mary Winter, sees an astronaut drifting out in space longing for a home he cannot yet return to, isolated in the great black void. On the very next track, The Lonely Crowd Fades in the Air, we flash back to earth where the same loneliness pervades mankind as they uneasily march towards the end days. We are simultaneously in the future, as seen by the 60s, but entirely uncertain if we have a future to look forward to in the present. As vocalist Adam Franklin croons into the title track with the quite direct line “we are ruled by fools”, it becomes clear that the future ruins in question are both the present, built on the failed future promise of the 60s, and the immanent future we walk into uncomfortably every day.
Musically Future Ruins leans on a palette as large scale as its message. Though the album switches between several tempos and feels, every single one of them is united by a focus on being as enormous as physically possible. At times it is reminiscent of American shoegaze-cousin Dinosaur Jr., at other times Built to Spill hopped up on human growth hormones, and at still others the spacey, otherworldly sounds of My Bloody Valentine, each presented in monolithic packaging. It’s wonderful, fully immersive noise. Swervedriver are at their best when they embrace this noise, like in the guitar freak-out at the end of Theeascending or the slow build of closer Radio Silent, which gradually adds layers until it roars into a beautiful cacophony. None of this is inherently new to shoegaze as a genre, but Swervedriver execute each maneuver with the precision expected from a band in their prestigious position, resulting in a truly masterful album.
The downside, as many critics before me have pointed out, is that despite its successful experiments, Future Ruins is still a very safe album for a band that continually hints at the ability to truly transcend their genre. It needs stated, however, that a safe album from Swervedriver would be an artistic odyssey for many other bands, so I don’t count it nearly the strike that many would. What could stand improvement on the other hand are the lyrics, which at points feel distant and disconnected. Despite a few clever lines, some clear standout images, and some very heady subject matter, the general lyrical collection is fairly ho-hum, fitting easily into the atmosphere and tone of the songs, but only seldomly jumping off the page.
All in all Future Ruins is a marvelous album, a great new edition to the band’s already cult-revered canon. Even if you aren’t familiar with the band’s back-catalogue it easily stands out on its own: this was the first Swervedriver album I’ve ever heard and I can honestly say I was immediately impressed by it’s artistic scope and musicianship. It’s certainly one of the best releases of a relatively quiet January 2019 and a dark-horse end of the year list contestant.
8.0/10 (Best New Music)
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Label: Dangerbird Records
Release Date: January 25, 2019