Blight Records, 2018


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Until now, Washington, D.C.-based instrumentalist Matt Dowling has only played the part of bassist in local acts (including Paperhaus, featured on the DV earlier this year). Swoll is Dowling’s attempt to try out the frontman position for a change. Seeking the help of electronic musician Benjamin Schurr, Dowling has created this project, which consists of dark bass-centric electronic music that finds him taking up the role of the lead vocalist.

The very distinctive trait of this self-titled record is the odd combination of macho hip-hop beats and Dowling’s wimpy falsetto vocals, which are devoid of even the slightest hint of machismo. This recipe is interesting because Dowling deliberately chose my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 this particular band name, knowing very well that this specific word is used to describe someone who is ripped, thereby winking at our narcissistic culture. But at the same time, the very act of wanting to be the frontman is not possible if not driven by some degree of narcissism!

Fittingly, Swoll is heavy conceptually, yet it is also quirky at the same time. There is a sense of ominousness in the music, which comes from the aggressive rhythms created by the beats and the bass. But apart from the buffed-up beats and bass, the music is actually pretty sparse otherwise, which is not enough to make for great cuts. This means that Dowling relies on other factors to make the music more attractive – in this case, addictive hooks.

The result is a minimal but immensely catchy electronic music record, which is also dark but not super-serious. The album has numerous highlights – “Budge,” “Back To You,” “Snow,” “Shake,” and Kraftwerk’s “Hall Of Mirrors”-inspired “Stars” – confidently demonstrating Dowling’s ability for songwriting despite the limited boundaries of his rather peculiar music style.

While Dowling’s formula is a success on much of the album, it does not work all that well on “Slow” and “Stranger,” where his vocals sound cartoonish and the bland music lacks the element of catchiness that makes the rest of the tracks successful.

Even though Swoll is a serious record, it very is clear that Dowling’s approach to this project is not without a sense of humor. This is only made more obvious by his inclusion of the bizarre low-voice narrations on a couple of the numbers, as if his conscience is trying to have a conversation with him in the middle of a cut. These spoken bits are nonsensical – “I want to build a video store in like 2019” – and would most certainly take away from the appeal of the song for some listeners. But Dowling’s gall to still go through with this idea says a lot about his confidence in his music, and his fearlessness to experiment – not bad for a guy who is just trying to get his feet wet as a solo artist.

Rating: B+

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© 2018 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Blight Records, and is used for informational purposes only.