So you’ve got two guys in your band, each of whom is barely 20, and apparently bounding with endless angst and energy. Swanton Bombs are London lads Dominic McGuinness and Brendan Heaney, on guitar and drums respectively, and their band name comes from a risky professional wrestling move. In the absence of other instrumentation, and in lieu of fancy-schmancy production values, Swanton Bombs opt to pound and clamour at ear splitting volume and teeth-gnashing intensity.
In short, their debut album, Mumbo Jumbo And Murder, is garage rock at its most garagey. The sonic violence achieved by the duo is respectable, especially considering the apparent lack of post-recording fussiness, but it’s tough to differentiate their sound from any of the current pack of guitar-drum fuzz machines going today.
That said, they’ve got some good things going for them. Heaney is absolutely a powerhouse behind the drums, and McGuinness plays and sings with a sort of scruffy ham-handed abandon that is oddly endearing. Vocally, he comes across as a standup mix between Julian Casablancas and the Arctic Monkeys,‘ Alex Turner after a few drinks.
They’re not as firmly entrenched in the American blues tradition as The Black Keys, and they don’t have the same annoyingly ticky pomposity that seems to follow The White Stripes. They’re not as angular and noisy-for-noise’s-sake as The Moi Non Plus. These are all good things. Swanton Bombs work best when they’re doing what they’re good at: making a racket and flailing about at full tilt.
The album opens with a brief instrumental freakout, with a furiously picked guitar line, setting the tumultuous stage for things to come. When McGuinness’s vocals come in midway through Who’s Asking (which opens deceptively, with a riff that sounds quite a bit like My Sharona), his voice sounds like what you’d expect, which is to say it fits the music without being too challenging.
Lead single, Viktoria, is a honky-tonk, beer chugger set to a lazy, hip-slung swagger. The rowdy “Viktoria!” gang vocals (if two makes a gang, which Swanton Bombs make a promising case for) that comprise the chorus have the same sort of randy charm that made Gloria such a roadhouse staple, minus the bleary spelling.
Crowbar sounds like a Rolling Stones Exile era outtake turned round through The Clash‘s cover of Brand New Cadillac. Waistland showcases McGuinness’s furiously fast picking with a hacksaw riff before giving way to more of the same power chords. Throughout, Heaney’s drums threaten to steal every track, and he’s certainly one to watch (especially considering the general simplicity that plagues the drummers of guitar-drum bands).
The album fizzles a bit toward the end, with the form-breakers Sable and Thanks, which lilt about at a somewhat embarrassing half-time. (It should be noted, though, that Thanks becomes a worthy closer, freaking out with frenetic explosiveness in its second half.) This is reasonable, though, considering the ferocity with which the preceeding 10 songs are outfitted. That McGuinness’s voice seems on the edge of a complete larynx meltdown by the end is only a testament to his dedication to the demands of his rock ‘n’ roll medium.
Mumbo Jumbo And Murder is an excellent debut from a pair of naturally talented musicians. It’s got anything you could ask for in a garage rock album, even if there’s ultimately not much to set Swanton Bombs apart from their innumerable peers. They’ve got the same scruffy appeal and under-produced charm that made the first Kings Of Leon record a success anyway; we’ll see what age does for them.