Swamp Eyes - Something's In The Hall (Album Review)

Norwegian painter Edvard Munch once said, 
"Art comes from joy and pain, but mostly pain." And while the cliched tortured artist trying to realise their vision has been heavily romanticised in our culture, art has a more utilitarian function as a salve. Perhaps the greatest pain is that of a parent who learns their child is not in total health. Such was the case for Evansvillian musician Sam Kuban (a.k.a Swamp Eyes), who coped with his toddler being diagnosed with Diabetes 1 by pouring frustrations into his debut album "Something's In The Hall". The result is an expressive and highly original take on folk punk, unconcerned with being fashionable, professional, or even entirely coherent and all the better for it. These songs are exciting in an immediate yet thoughtful way; they punch you between the eyes and then kiss you to make up for it. 

Not for the faint of heart, "Something's In The Hall" alternates between incongruous energies, lovely acoustic campfire folk and sweaty mosh-pit-ready punk rock. The transitions between these styles are done without warning, waking the listener from ennui like an alarm clock on a Monday morning. However, fans of acoustic-led balladry and snotty-nosed rock are likely to find this concoction exhilarating.

Does that paragraph make the album seem gimmicky? Partly, it is. Kuban takes the attention-grabbing effectiveness of his deranged compositions and runs with it, accentuating a quiet/loud dynamic even more exaggerated than the pre-Millenium groups who pioneered that style of play (The Gun Club, Pixies, et al.). Yet beyond any superficial contrivances lie sophisticated songs which sound like they needed to come out, propelled by a burning desire to find answers to unanswerable questions through expression and innovation.

The opening track, "Trash Palace", introduces the tools in Swamp Eye's kit. Big electric guitars, not-so-small acoustic ones, papery-thin but impactful drums, accessible vocal melodies, and strings all culminate in an epic stew. "Wait For The Lights" showcases Kuban's ability to match clever lyrics ("We're pruning up at the bottom / We'll take some smokes if you got 'em") with sing-along choruses. "Dig A Hole", a tune steeped in Americana, turns ungodly with uncompromising tones, doom folk through and through. It's not all intuitively based, as "The Farm Up North" demonstrates Kuban's finger-picking prowess before idiosyncratic stop/start songwriting is briefly interrupted by a burst of distortion. And then there's the veneration of chaos on "Mess Maker", which employs timeless songwriting and vocal harmonies to produce a track of anticipatory tension. The amalgamation of peace and noise on previous tracks means that, at any point, Kuban's enchantingly sweet offerings could be vitiated by dissonance, like a steamroller over a valley. This adds a pronounced suspense on the first listen, uncertainty that lingers with subsequent spins. It's effective. Perhaps Kuban's point is that life can be dandelions and candyfloss one moment, and then in an instant, life can drop a bomb. 

Kuban is a proficient multi-instrumentalist, and "Scurry" has some of the best drums on the album, while the album highlight "Eat Us" is a fully-formed flagship track that encompasses all the best parts of the collection. Finally, "Cheers" is an apt closer which doesn't neglect the album's overarching macabre ("There's a body in the river floating quietly to town") but offers a digestif to help everything that preceded settle. 

"Something's In The Hall" is an impressive debut that, surprisingly for 2022, brings new ideas to the table. Completely unhinged in places and tightly assembled in others, the album can sometimes go too far in juxtaposing dichotomies. However, the personality of the songs and the intention with which they are delivered are more often than not transcendent.