Friday, May 27, 2011

Cliffie Swan (Formerly Lights) Bring Us Memories Come True: A Review

There's no shame in sounding like a band from the past.

No shame at all, especially if your influences are good ones.

Cliffie Swan's Memories Come True, on Drag City, sounds like Eighties rockers The Wygals, early Rush -- without the power-drumming -- The Adult Net, early tracks by The Bangles, and even Led Zeppelin II.

Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder previously fronted this band when it was called Lights. Now, with a name-change to Cliffie Swan, the band is back with a decidedly poppy take on those diverse influences.

When I say "poppy," I don't mean that in a Bieber-way; no, I mean that these are catchy and immediate tracks that would not have sounded out of place on college rock radio back in the glory days of college rock radio

And, weirdly, Sophia Knapp's lead vocals at times recall those Susan Sarandon sang in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)!

Cliffie Swan remind me of a band in an old 1970s movie where you realize that the on-screen group is the product of the film-makers but also that the group would have been a pretty cool real band outside of the film-world.

Along with Sophia Knapp and Linnea Vedder, Cliffie Swan consists of Alana Amram, Erika Spring, and Hannah Rawe and the players all create a real retro-band sound, with bits of flourish and flare tucked behind the tunes and clear, beautiful, and sometimes soaring lead vocals.

The Stevie Nicks-leading-Fleetwood Mac-isms of album opener "Dream Chain" recall AM Top 40 radio from the 1970s until a decidedly crunchy riff kicks in like The Posies behind the vocals and things get a bit swoony.

It's a bold, if understated, mashing of styles that recalls Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock" in a way.

"Yes I Love You" is like Olivia Newton-John leading Sister-era Sonic Youth: it's mellow but the fuzzy guitars lend a snarl-and-menace to the lovey-dovey stuff.

"Full of Pain" is Veruca Salt dueling with early Floyd. And "California Baby" is The Beatles' "Within You, Without You" pieced together by Helium.

There are many pieces here that one can trace back to worthy rock antecedents but the success of Memories Come True by Cliffie Swan is that the record is concise and original in the way those elements come together.

And, frankly, there's a welcomed sense of catchy pop-and-roll here that I found refreshing. I'm glad that Cliffie Swan decided to err on the side of the tuneful and memorable and not on the side of woozy shoegaze guitar pedal workouts.

Memories Come True is a remarkably concise and catchy record that still manages to sound a bit...trippy. Poetic and lyrical, the album marries Seventies acid rock to AM radio conventions and the result is a very modern product.

Memories Come True by Cliffie Swan is a lot of fun and it's still a bit daring.

Follow Cliffie Swan...

on their Drag City page

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