The Plurals are a heavy indie rock band from Lansing, Michigan. Their latest album, Swish, was released on GTG Records, a record label the band created when they started putting out music in 2007. The trio’s passion for the Lansing rock scene and DIY aesthetic is compelling, and this piece in the Lansing City Pulse about the band and label’s place in Lansing is worth a read.
Looking outside the Lansing lens, the Plurals are part of the ever-growing scene of bands that grew up on Dinosaur Jr. and The Pixies and skirt the line between indie rock and punk while mixing male and female vocals. Some other bands that come to mind are Swearin’, Screaming Females, and Lemuria. In the Lansing City Pulse article, band member Tommy McCord says that one of the missions of GTG Records (and Swish by proxy) is to show that “it’s still possible to have fun in America in the Trump Administration,” which is in line with this indie-rock/punk scene’s tendency to emphasize the good-time empowerment side of punk, rather than the angry political side.
Whether or not Swish actually achieves that goal is up for debate. There are a couple gems on this album, and there are a couple of, well...what’s the opposite of gems? Rocks? Either way, the track-to-track inconsistency in quality is mainly due to the varied vocals throughout Swish. The opening track, “Overthinking,” delivers trying-to-be-a-gritty-punk-guy vocals that are difficult for me to get behind, and then there’s the backup vocals in the middle of the song that sound like the singer has a half-inflated balloon in his throat, and I wonder if I’m supposed to take this seriously or if I’m just not in on the joke. This “gritty-guy” vocal style comes up again in tracks like “Hammer to the Head Dumb” and “Thermal Nuclear Lambasting,” and they just don’t do much for me. Meanwhile, songs like “Coke Daddy” and “Ghoulie” are just weird (as you can guess by the titles) - they sound like the kind of songs that the band wrote late one night after the beers were almost gone. Sometimes these kinds of songs are gems and sometimes they’re rocks, but it’s hard to see the shine in these.
“I Hate Your Life” is the first song that does shine, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the first track where Hattie Danby does lead vocals. It also doesn’t hurt that the song brings a refreshingly straightforward guitar riff and familiar-sounding-but-still-unique melody to the table. Danby comes up again in “Clowns” and “Colorado Sun,” and these are the stronger parts of the album.
I will say though that “Be Flat” is definitely the highlight of the album. Somehow that grating vocal style at the beginning of Swish brings out some real pathos on this track. The whole band comes together with simple backing vocals that nonetheless add to the song, and there’s even a jamming bridge to complete the 3:30-minute recipe for a solid rock song. We see this same kind of framework - 3:30-minute song with a jam near the end - on “Gallagher’s Brother, Gallagher” and “Greg Ginn,” but for some reason those songs are just not able to deliver the indescribable oomph that “Be Flat” does.
On that note, I think it’s telling that the Plurals supposedly recorded all of Swish in a single day in Nashville in the midst of a tour. The Plurals seem to be the kind of band that shoots songs off the cuff. If you’re going to be that kind of band, you have to accept that sometimes things will work and sometimes they won’t, and that’s largely up to the luck of the moment. This off-the-cuff MO is probably why the Plurals are known for their fun and energetic live shows, despite their not being very well-known. However, a lot of these tracks make it clear that Swish was recorded in a rush, and I can’t help but think that some of these rocks could have been gems if they were given a bit more chisel, polish, and shine.
5.5 / 10
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