Album Review: Schwein – Easy Does It

Album art by Derek Vaughan Nunez Strahan

Sometimes This Place Feels Like Home:

Schwein’s Easy Does It Helps

By Jay Armstrong

Photo by Isaiah Mancha

If you haven’t gone out on a Tuesday, coming home suffocated, defeated, disgusted by what those shock-burned eyeballs of yours been grasping at for the last few hours then we ain’t got much to talk about. This town—every town—been flooded by skinsuited aliens infiltrating our personal spots; learning how to stand straight and blink apparently all they have mastered thus far, to delve into the more complex components of bein’ human (i.e. having a personality beyond a shallow surface grasp on modern pop-culture) must be on the plan for tomorrow. It takes more than paisley shirts and two-hundred-dollar slacks to make me a believer.  I sure hope they find their way back to the mother-ship or bring our infrastructure to its knees—like my grandad used to say, “shit or get off the pot”—one way or another this hanging around disaffected, dulling up our spots needs to go. You and I may be outnumbered but as long as we can keep catching breath in this rising tide of living costs, let us rejoice in what remains. Our Kerouacian appreciation for looking on the bright side can still hold sway—bright side being the endless gray everpresent “they” incapable of slowing the growth in those creative minds of the aural kind. The incandescent buzz may continue evermore polluting our night sky, look hard enough, squinting through the noise one still notices the constellations of the gods that led us here and the heroes who rose to share eternity out of this dust beside them—of which, our humblest star remains Schwein.

It is not all “them vs us” either. I would never speak for you, personally though, if I have to listen to some pretentious lip-sniffing grease-bag mask their meak demeanor with analog championing gear speak for one more second I might just seize in dissociation, foam mouthed confusion laying me near lifeless on The Electric Church floor. WE GET IT ALREADY! These puffed chest soliloquies in a public uninvited setting are making me nauseous. I say this as someone who clearly grasps and subscribes to the line of reasoning, my heart salutes their goal. As with any religious level belief system; one should keep their faith in something holy to their goddamn self. Purism prosthesized is poison. If one’s actions do not motivate us to follow in their steps, vapid words merely deepen the divide. I am political and I am a purist as much as anyone who relies on likes and shares to sustain their life goals can be, still the whole “no politics or religion” thing should be upheld by some sort of bar police; when that gate comes crashing down and they line em all up in cuffs, know they brought this on themselves. As the ancient haiku of the mystics states:

If finding zen is
not enough to sustain you
then you’re an asshole

This is the feeling I get whenever someone asks these self-proclaimed “artists” anything related to music. Am I wrong? This is why the bright-eyed, Matt Schwein continues proving himself the Bodhisattva the rest of these hacks pretend to be.

I do not know who started such a lie, probably John Waters, but art does not reflect life. If it were so then every band in this town would be Darby Crashing the microphone, neck veins bursting with discontent as though a young Henry Rollins were their life coach. No art does not reflect life. Art marks the X on the map for where our feet should carry us; the future, the vision, the reason for following one path over another. Artists in all their blindly stupid naivety somehow are the only ones with the sixth sense to understand the power of the wind, to shape its energy for carrying us along a course into a brighter tomorrow. Many parade around as artists, understanding how we expect artists to speak, conforming to the idea of how they perceive an artist to carry themselves. What a sham! Corporate tropes sold through made-for-tv movies. The clowns keep forgetting one thing. You cannot imitate fire. A whisper of truth will shatter unintelligent shouting every time. Are you listening though to hear it?

There were giants in this town—Bad Sports, Pharaohs, Bad Lovers, A Giant Dog—beside them stood Schwein, an equal cut from a more resigned cloth; Chbosky might call it “the sort of Rock N Roll which doesn’t make a big deal about itself.” In the heart of that golden age surfaced the first Schwein album, The Future Is Gnar; a brilliant, idealistic, clever, master’s class of creativity. Whether you were there at one of the shows or had it on repeat in your car for a month straight, that record, those songs, hit—physically, mentally, and about seven other ways scientists have yet to discover and label. On Easy Does It we get a Schwein who has been long away from Chicago, the slow gentle southern appreciation of the simple has saturated his every tissue. Texas wins again y’all.  For every friend who has given up the wild nights for a boring life and became unbearable through the process, there are others whose warm magnetic glow has remained intact through those changes bringing them all the more down the path of self-fulfilling enlightenment. It is a thin fine line between growth and atrophy. As surprising as the first Schwein album was in its Modern Lovers meets B-52‘s likeness coming off genuine, all the more is Easy Does It for dialing back the presence without radiating the spineless boredom often associated with such a choice. The new record plays like watching someone pull out the leather jacket which for years had that tough new vibrant sheen yet now as they slip it on we cannot but marvel at the absent-minded comfort one only knows through mutual conforming between the possession and the possessor shaping themselves mutually in reflection of the other. Easy Does It does not have the snarky fighting typical Schwein toughness, what we get in return though is the essence of comfortable creative depth rarely experienced for the constant self-evaluation and acceptance it takes to get there. This album is as personal as ever, a John Cale broken boldness sort of journey from open to close all swept over with a thousand hushed mystic ohms weaving the ride along.

Breaking down the album track by track would be an injustice to its cohesive nature. Each song shakes hands with the next, peaks and valleys reflecting the same orgiastic light, the only disappointing moment coming as it closes out feeling full yet wanting more. I think of Holy Wave‘s Relax, I think of The Black Angels the way Black Angels fans think of The Black Angels, I think of 2014 and wonder if we could have known this is where we would be in five years how it would have made us feel. Matt Schwein has made peace with it; the good, the bad—all positives when you learn to read them. Analog has rarely tasted so good—probably since this is one of the rare times we get to listen to it without some prick breathing down our neck trying to impress us explaining why it was made that way. Some people do it for the recognition—to prop up their ego, to make something for the sake of self-serving social positives—Schwein continues to be one of those musicians above the noisy nothings, a beacon of hope for the rest of us to gravitate towards. There is no curtain to look behind. Others need smoke and mirrors. Schwein needs only himself. I will never stop being surprised by the depth of his intelligence, the steadfast conviction of never forsaking creativity at any cost, the substance of the creator speaks boldly in every song on the album.

Schwein may not have the ego often associated with this town, his voice though rings out a testament of all that remains holy here better than nearly anyone else has. He does so not through words but through actions lain out honestly one song at a time for twenty-five minutes. That “Waiting Around To Die” spirit of Townes, the eccentric genius of Roky Erickson, the simplistic brilliance of Linklater, all of their angelic voices echo through these overcrowded, nearly unrecognizable streets. Easy Does It taps us on the shoulder, reminds us to put our ear to the wind and let that nearly forgotten spirit fill our hearts with wonder once more.

A long remembered quote from Donald Miller repeats in my head, “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” Schwein is that man playing the saxophone. Only it is not jazz but the solicitude of life gently floating through the ether of understanding, telling us one must aspire towards nothing beyond This album as much as the one who created it speaks firmly to the sentiment of perspective on letting go, holding on, to confusion, peace and everything else seemingly opposing the other—with appreciation, with acceptance, they are one and the same.

Although one could easily imagine Schwein sitting at a reel to reel, wires and madness being tap tap tapped through morse code one word at a time—when I interviewed him three years ago for the “Cindy Make Him” release, I saw just that—this album though, more than anything he has had his hand in before, might as well have appeared through enlightenment brought out of the cosmic source sitting lotus atop Mt. Bonnell. His passion in creating for the sake of creating is a testament for us all. There is more to aspire to than recognition. To be honest through one’s art—to forsake the strengths previously leaned upon which one feels are the antithesis of what they now attempt to shape—are big ideas which break and bend the will of those not bold enough to face them with committed idealism and properly buried fear. Schwein hopes merely at the end of the journey to have expressed himself admirably, to look back on his path feeling fulfilled by the strength of his endlessly committed steps contented eternally in knowing what they have led him through along the way. On Easy Does It Schwein arrives at a way-station on his journey where to those of us bystanders merely basking in his glow, our only thought being; how did you keep your head down so long for us not to know how powerful you were until having already arrived?

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