Despite the fact that the band take their name from a Tom Waits album (i, personally, cannot stand Tom Waits' "Bruce Springsteen meets Charles Bukowski" shtick, but whatever), this is actually a rather good record. Swordfishtrombones is a fun little pop band. However, the name is un-Googleable (there are at least two other musical acts with this name, one a "Tom Waits Tribute Act"), which by my standards makes it a bad name.
This particular Swordfishtrombones is a band from Brno, in the vowel-deficient Czech Republic. They have apparently been around for over a decade, as a five-piece act with eclectic instrumentation, making dark pop in the Czech countryside. Aftertaste is their third album.
At times Swordfishtrombones remind me of Tindersticks, which i guess was a vaguely Tom Waits influenced act... However, Swordfishtrombones add in a lot more new wave influence than Tindersticks, which makes the music less oppressively dreary. They have a very accomplished, big sound. Miloš Rejsek is the vocalist, and he sings strongly with a slightly odd pronunciation. It's not that noticeable, but there are certain words that Rejsek sings which show that he is not a native English speaker.
And yes, Swordfishtrombones sing in English. I guess it is the international language of pop music. Huh.
Compass starts off the record with Rejsek's sweet voice, then one guitar strums harshly (the metal strings really clattering) as the other noodles. Then it all comes together, with keys and drums and the voice. The layering of this song, and it's general tone, reminds me of Inspiral Carpets.
Momorail is a faint synthpop tune with burbling tones and a generally happy pace. But the next track is the real standout here. It is called All But Unseen Beauty, where Rejsek is joined by a female voice singing along with him. This is a pretty little pop song, and the female voice is a nice addition. (Watch the video here.)
Skeleton Key is a slower, almost eerie tune with lots of horns. But it is back to the sunshiny pop with Anoraks, where drummer Dan Petr cuts loose for the very time on the record. However, i am not sure what the hell Rejsek is singing about where he refers to "The Thompson Anoraks". "Anorak" is British for "coat" right? So this is about a specific brand of outerwear? Hmmm. Whatever. The band wraps it in a rollicking bass and some nice jangly guitar.
Things slow back down for Clocks Go Forward Tonight, which makes me wonder just how universal the evil concept of "Daylight Savings Time" is. Rejsek whispers as guitars chime along. Dandy moves along a little more briskly, and is like a version of Anoraks with more horns. Not bad.
On Bulldozer the band take what eNTERTAINME.nt were doing and merging it with a bright chiming synthpop, a la Ova Looven.... This might be my favorite song here, a sort of fast, rigorous, goth dance pop. Plus, xylophone!
They strip it back down on I'm Alert, a song of see-sawing keys and chiming guitar and Rejsek singing stark and emotive. Eventually, the whole band starts singing in the background as the music kicks up, and i am reminded, slightly, or early Midnight Oil. It is really epic, a grandiose way to end the album.
Overall, this is a pleasant album of slightly mopey yet still brite new wave influenced pop. I suspect that some people will really enjoy this release, and will find that these songs worm their way deep into their brains. Others will be put off by the retro-ness of this music. However, it is pretty good pop.