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  Bastards and Rarities: 1989 - 1994  
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Bastards and Rarities is a collection of songs from 7"s and the like released by San Francisco-based band Swell back in the early 90's. It collects together 10 wonderful lo-fi pop tunes. Even though the name implies that this is throwaway material, collected for serious fans only, that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, this is great pop music done on a shoestring budget and originally released in a very indie rock manner on dozens of small labels. If you like early 90's indie rock, then this should be an obvious purchase.

None of the tunes are bad, which is in itself a testament to Swell's songwriting capabilities that even their "rarities" compilation is all good. However, a few tunes deserve special mention here. On Come Tomorrow Swell manage to capture that same magical vibe that The Church epitomized so well on Heydey: a dreamy, vaguely psychedelic poeticalness.

What I Saw is a nice catchy tune. The voice is buried in the mix, and vocalist/guitarist Dave Freel is strumming away on his battered old acoustic while the other guitar saws away with slide and distortion. In the background, the drummer beats his kit like mad. It's a nice blend of lo-fi and distorted rock.

Life's Great is a-typical for Swell. It's more of a western tune, with a little bit of jazz thrown in (see also: Devics, Black Heart Procession). The drum riff is straight out of cool jazz, and the guitar wails long bent notes overtop. It's dark and edgey and rather nice, and it gets gloriously messy and overdriven towards the end. Not what you normally expect from Swell, but very nicely done.

Forget About Dean is almost electronic. It starts with about a minute of keyboard drone and looped and echoed vocals, then the normal Swell guitarwork chimes in, complete with the drummer trying to play like a drum machine. A little different than the bulk of Swell's work, but still a pretty good song.

Overall, this is a collection of well played and catchy tunes. Each of the songs works well, and although Swell might not be the most innovative band in the history of music, they certainly do what they do well. Although the likely purpose of this disc is to gather more obscure tracks together for their fans, it can serve as a good introduction to anyone not yet familiar with Swell. So if you like indie rock, this is an excellent purchase.

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Swell in concert in February 2004.


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