Swank’s Keep It Together isn’t retro but it could have been.
It isn’t of its time but it isn’t timeless either.
If it had been released in 1965 or 66, it might be revered as a classic “lost” record a decade or so later.
Yet it isn’t lost, it’s waiting to be discovered. As I re-discovered last week.
Swank is (or was) an independent band with roots in punk (Insex) and power pop (Go Four Three). Swank projected an awareness of pop art and pop history that was embodied in its classy album covers. Keep It Together was designed and illustrated by celebrated artist Bob Masse whose handbills for late 60s club, Retinal Circus, are local lore alone.
Keep It Together was released in 2015. It didn’t fit then, doesn’t fit now yet seems familiar enough to go back almost 60 years. So, there is no context for it.
It would be easy to say that Swank was just following an arc of growth but it had never released a record like this. Maybe, this is a result of Phil Addington’s curiosity. Insex, for example, had Addington leading a band of no electric lead guitar but two basses. That didn’t work out well but in the aftermath of punk you could try such an experiment. Similarly, Swank’s music skipped around homeless while Addington established his own music store, Bone Rattle, which also released Keep It Together. He’s still exercising his curiosity. A demo of acoustic-based rhythm and blues is being prepared. Swank is on hold, not derailed but effectively in disarray.
So, assuming there will be no more Swank records, what does this six year old record sound like?
The British Invasion bands of the mid-60s come to mind. Simple but urgent, often stinging, guitar riffs are the basis of most of the 11 songs. The Kinks of All Day And All Of The Night here, Yardbirds bravado there as the guitars of Dave Badanic and Gord Smithers mesh and singer Spencer McKinnon throws in some harmonica, 60s style. Pieces Of My Heart could be the Rolling Stones version of Solomon Burke’s Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. Rockbottom Line is a rollicking, slightly countrified rhythm and blues reminiscent of the Stones take on Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now.
Swank isn’t British, this isn’t the 60s.Instead, there is a personality starting to emerge, which makes the yet-to-be finished follow up to Keep It Together a lingering curiosity. As a singer, McKinnon is soulful yet has a style that speaks of an attitude, forceful , expressive and all his own. He gets to to stand out on the ballad Just Let Him Go and show just how much his singing gives Keep It Together its character.
It’s energy, exemplified by Not Complaining or Drop And Roll, seems more late 70s punk than 60s post-invasion punk but also asks the question, is this garage-rock?
The trappings are there in the way the keyboards of Lazy or Kill Him With Honey suggest Farfisa organ or Don’t Try This is coloured by fuzz guitar or the title track could be Swank’s Louie Louie. There is a lot of that mid-60s North American response to the British Invasion yet it doesn’t sound conscious. The record was made 30 years after-the-fact, after all.
And if it was made today would raise the same questions.