Swallows
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Swallows

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The best kept secret in music

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""Me with Trees Towering" Review"

On the opening track, Swallows, a duo from Portland, Oregon, set conflicting rhythms in drums, guitars, and keyboard playing against each other in a manner that initially bemuses, but then amuses, "Flight (Takeoff)" then does just that, pushing into a driven dance -punk exercise. "I'd Like To be Your Man" moves the disc on with a bluesy guitar tapping out an insanely catchy hook. Debut full-length, "Me With Trees Towering" is not a prettified record. It's a pimply, gangly adolescent with knees knocked and elbows akimbo, and that's a good thing. The rough edges have been left in place; the album sounds as though it has been recorded with little knob-twiddling, and I bet guitarist/vocalist emBROWNLOWe and drummer Jon Miller kick ass on a stage. "Words of Love," according to the liner notes, was inspired by the Mama Cass song, but the frenetic pace, sludgy guitar and pounding drums are miles away from Cass' serene pop. "Surf Song OR" is a noodling delight, riding on a thick organ and, you guessed it, a wild surf guitar. On a label with plenty of fresh talent, Swallows demands and deserves attention (Michael Meade) - Skyscraper Magazine


""Me with Trees Towering" Feature Review"

If you believe the weird, weird world of modern music, then the Swallows don't really exist.

There are several reasons why. One: they're on the small and independent Cherchez La Femme Projects, a post-Mr. Lady label that's basically operated out of Sarah Dougher's kitchen. (She sells organic doggie treats from there, too.) Two: they're from Portland, which is not east of the Mississippi and thus way, way the heck off the honcho/hipster radar. Three: they're openly queer, which is brave and important but also risky, as far as mass marketing is concerned. Four: they're a male/female duo named after a bird, which means that every other critic compares them to Quasi, the Like, or Mates of State (Swallows sound a little like Quasi, but not much), and then cracks a joke about "no more bands named after wolves! Birds are the new black! Ever heard Swan Island?"

Basically, the Swallows' Emily Brownlowe (emBROWNLOWe) and Jonathan Miller have the shit end of a short straw. This fact probably isn't surprising to you, dear Punk Planeteer, but that doesn't make it any less lame. Actually, it's superlame, because these kids have talent and hustle. They should have packed basements, deserve jammed venues (all-ages, of course), and in a few years will definitely merit packed clubs, cross-country.

Brownlowe and Miller are barely twenty, but they've been playing together for almost 3 years. Before this, their avian incarnation, they called themselves Dirty Shirley, Led Kitten, Dot Dot Dot, and Yarokei, and they opened for the likes of Anna Oxygen, Rebecca Gates, and Emily Herring.

The Swallows are young, but they've a fair amount of experience under their (star-studded, black plastic) belts. Here, it shows and shines. There are some obvious influences I hear riot grrl rhetoric and vocal curls à la Mecca Normal's Jean Smith, plus obvious nods to Mama Cass and Lyn Hejinian but there's also a lot that's genuine Swallow.

For one, there's Brownlowe's voice, which is always brightly clear, coming sometimes from the head and others from the gut. (Occasionally, she bleats like a mini-Corin Tucker.) There is the mix of guitar and keys (Brownlowe) with drums and melodica (Miller), a combination that none of the duos mentioned above use as consistently or innovatively. (See also "Surf Song OR," which features Dougher on organ and Brownlowe's voice, zooming from headphone to headphone.) There's a queer love song (cheekily titled "I'd Like To Be Your Man"), and even cuckoo noises, sweetly hooted at the beginning and end of "All of the Wind in the World Blows To Me," a song that easily fills the darker corners of your head.

There are also a lot of empty metaphors. "Empty" doesn't mean "bad;" it means "empty." There's a lot of taking off, of wind whistling, of standing on the edge. You could easily link these emotions to the four reasons I mentioned above, or you could try being in your early twenties, too. There are a lot of empty things and imperfections to this period, but hopefully there's hope, too. Similarly, Me With Trees Towering isn't a crowning achievement there's plenty of room to grow but it's a fine beginning, and I'm definitely looking forward to whatever these two'll do next.

- Mairead Case - Punk Planet (#77)


"Spotlight Feature Band Review"

At least a hundred people are packed into a small art gallery in downtown Portland and dozens more are lining the sidewalk out front. They are not welcoming a new art movement or even an artist, but rather are joining in the celebration of a new CD by the duo known as Swallows.

“It was crazy,” says singer/guitarist Em Brownlowe about the band’s CD release show. “I was sitting at the merch table and people kept coming up to ask, ‘Have Swallows played yet?’ I had tons of friends who I didn’t even see because there were so many people there.”
Feeding off the energy of the crowd, Swallows put on a raucous and loud performance. Brownlowe shoved her guitar neck in the face of those nearby and bounced around the small area afforded her, all the while pumping out fractured chords and singing in her distinctive come hither/ back off fashion. Drummer Jon Miller meanwhile circled around his drumbeats, ready to strike into a crashing polyrhythm at a moment’s notice. It was, in a word, electrifying.

The buzz surrounding both the performance and the band is palpable, and after one listen to Me With Trees Towering, it’s easy to understand why. Brownlowe and Miller have created a beautifully messy sound, combining tribal rhythms and off-kilter guitar work that is equal parts early ’80s no wave and late ’90s math rock. The album is both a warm nod to the Riot Grrl movement that marked Brownlowe’s early musical endeavors and a bold step in a more experimental direction.

Miller says the group is especially influenced by “the very progressive pop music that’s being made right now. Those groups that are reevaluating classical structures in music.” This reevaluation even enters the realm of the group’s lyrical content where the duo uses experimental poetry techniques or (on the propulsive “Hejinian Hymn”) cribs phrases and words from the book My Life by Lyn Hejinian. The group has also commissioned lyrics from writers and friends because, according to Brownlowe, “they could write them better than us, so why not?”

Swallows do their best to encourage and promote the work of other artists, including photographer Julia Laxer, whose work graces the cover of their new album, and by putting together a compilation CD of like-minded artists (including The Vulturines, Autopilot and Morgan Grace) “who believe in the concept of peer promotion to counteract the competitive music scene,” according to the press notes for the disc.

It is this work that Miller and Brownlowe have put into networking with fellow musicians and the larger artistic community in Portland that helped the band get voted into the lineup for this past summer’s PDX Pop Now! Festival, and according to Brownlowe, helped to stir up “a lot more press than we thought possible.” Brownlowe continues, “There’s a lot of momentum right now.”

The two will admit that having a couple of more recognizable names in the independent music world working on their behalf has helped give the band a leg up. The majority of Me With Trees Towering was recorded with the former frontwoman for The Need, Radio Sloan, and the disc is being released by Sarah Dougher’s up-and-coming Cherchez La Femme Records. “It totally sucks that this is the way it has to be,” says Miller, “but it helps to have these names attached to us.”

The band got signed to Cherchez La Femme after Brownlowe submitted a demo following Dougher’s call for submissions last year. Miller likens the label to such forebears as Mr. Lady and Chainsaw, well known for its loud support of and affiliation with the gay and lesbian community. “There aren’t labels doing what they used to do,” says Brownlowe. “Hopefully Cherchez La Femme will be like that. It’s really exciting to be one of the first bands on that label.”

Currently lining up their second West Coast tour (planned for March 2007), Swallows’ goals, for all the buzz surrounding them these days, are relatively modest. According to Miller, “We just want to have one solid show in Portland and one or two good shows out of town each month.” Brownlowe echoes those ideals: “Jon and I were talking about our magic number being 30. If we can play any town in the country and have at least 30 people come out to see us, then it will be worth it.”
- Performer Magazine ( Dec. 06 )


"Featured Band Review"

I DON'T KNOW if it's a shooting star, four-leaf clover, or some kind of fucking purple horseshoe, but something out there is watching over Swallows. And whatever it is, the force that brought together singer and guitarist Em Brownlowe and drummer Jon Miller has been working some seriously long hours. Years really.

When it all began, Em was on one coast with Jon on the other. They didn't know each other, but in their respective homes, they both met Sarah Dougher (Cadallaca). At the time neither could have imagined that the singer they came to see would eventually release their first real album.

"I snuck into a bar to see Sarah and her band play in New York," Jon tells me. "We talked about a song I thought meant one thing and Sarah laughed and told me that wasn't it at all." The experience tickled Dougher, and when Jon saw Cadallaca again, a year later, the band had written a song about that conversation.

Em saw Sarah and Cadallaca in San Diego. "I was 14 and got my picture taken with each member of the band," she admits. "It was all very nerdy, but kind of inspiring too."

Eventually the two would be drawn to Portland.

"I felt like there was a convergence of all types of artists going on and it seemed like the place to be," Jon says. "My boyfriend and I sold everything we owned, stuffed our clothes inside my drum set and drove out here."

Em was on the same track. "A lot of the bands that I listened to, a lot of riot grrrl-oriented bands, came from Portland or Olympia. I saw a good music scene for women."

The two met on a message board looking for band-mates a week before moving to Portland. They arrived the very same day.

"We got away with one practice in my apartment before they threatened to kick us out," Em says.

At a coffee shop on Division, Em found a flyer seeking local artists and musicians for collaboration. She knew little about the label, but sent a demo anyway. The package was addressed to Cherchez la Femme Projects, the label of Sarah Dougher.

Liking what she heard, Sarah eventually arranged to produce and release Swallows' debut album, Me with Trees Towering. At its best the disc recalls early Sleater-Kinney, with a more flighty and experimental Janet Weiss and without too much Carrie Brownstein. And maybe a pinch of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth if Kim played Thurston's guitar while he mashed the drums.

Dougher enlisted producer Radio Sloan (the Need, Peaches, Courtney Love's band the Chelsea, and others), Having two such experienced women involved impacted Em heavily. "There was one song, 'All the Wind in the World,' that Sarah challenged me to redevelop the vocal parts to, and because of that, it became such a better pop song."

The album's opening track, "Flight," with its layered and more fully realized vocal and guitar melodies is easily the apex of Trees Tlowering. And even though they can't recreate all those overdubs live, Swallows remain equally committed to their live performance.

"Our live show and the album are two very different experiences," Em explains. "We hope you'll like them both."

- Portland Mercury ( Oct. 2006 )


""Me With Trees Towering" Review"

Swallows debut full-length comes out today, so I relistened to it to pick a track to share with you folks. I wanted to pick something other than “Flight (Takeoff)” because I wrote a few words on it for a listing in WW saying, “It’s a killer song that builds from a single, angular, Sleater-Kinney-esque guitar line into an atmospheric punk jam.” But, upon picking up Me with Trees Towering, again, I found “Flight” to be so clearly the standout track that I couldn’t bare to post anything else. So at the risk of being repetitious, here it is.

Starting with a single part and slowly adding to it is an old rock trick, but it’s just done so well here. In fact the structure and progression of the entire track is what makes me like it so much. I love how the beat maintains a momentary dead stop even as a tom roll is inserted in what’s blank space at the beginning. Later the dead stop is traded for a soft snare roll, easing into a smoother beat and facilitating the airy breakdown in the middle, and all the transitions happen before you notice them. The song kicks in again with one of the catchiest riffs on the album, which, within a few seconds, congeals into the most rocking moment on the record. On “Flight,” Swallows manage to cover a lot of ground in terms of tempo and depth while impressively maintaining a flow.

- Willamette Week Local Cut


""Me with Trees Towering" Review"

Walking through rows upon rows of CD racks, you stop at the letter S. S is a good letter; lots of bands in that category. Toward the back is an album with the band's name placed discreetly in the lower left corner. It's an earthy album cover, full of rich sunlight, overgrown foliage and tall, slender trees. But before you pass the band off as another indie-folk duo, consider what's happening on the inside.

Me With Trees Towering is The Swallows' first full-length album, released on Cherchez La Femme Projects. On it the Portland-based duo melds a little of every type of rock: indie, surf, riot grrrl, punk and even in places some pop punk. Em Brownlowe (vocals, guitar, keys) and Jon Miller's (drums, melodic) 12 track album begins with a slow but steady drum beat that compels your head to nod along with it. By mid-album the tempo has changed and the mood has changed. Miller, who got his first drum set in the 6th grade, picks up the pace to stay in time with the surf-rock organ. As Miller screams in the background mid-song, The Swallows recall the ska-rock band The Gadgets. By the last track, "The Lonesome Cowboy," the duo is fusing blues and indie rock. While the song begins moody with help from a slide guitar, halfway through the band uses thumping kick drums and heavy electric guitar to create the kind of suspense-building found in so many emo songs. Fortunately, there are no whiny prepubescent vocals here. The Swallows play with The Ol' Howl and Smash and others at 8 pm Saturday, March 10 at Shady Pines, 552 W. Broadway. — Amanda Burhop

- Eugene Weekly


""All the Wind in the World" Spotlight Review"

In the mid-nineties, the kids at K-Records promised free CDs 4 Lyfe to anyone brave enough to tattoo herself with the label's logo. I wouldn't have done that, but I might consider the Cherchez La Femme version. The label, founded by Sarah Dougher in response to the post-Mr. Lady void, is dedicated to the work of "ladies and queers" like Katastrophe, Sara Jaffe, and Dougher herself. It's vital work, and few others are doing it so actively (even if Dougher hasn't updated her website since the spring). Basically, I'd wheatpaste telephone poles and stand in the front row for any and all of these artists. But I wanna dance, too, and most of them don't exactly get me twitching. Usually, I'm left frustrated, torn between truth in folk or ass-shaking misogyny. God bless the Swallows, a Portland guitar/drum duo with bruising toms and clear, blue sky vox. They're nowhere near Sleater-Kinney's technical expertise, but I will say that when Em Brownlowe's voice soars halfway through "All the Wind in the World," I thought of Corin and almost cried. (And when guest Ruth Yoder (Sick Sick Sister) growls "I'm so fabulous! I'm so pr-etty" on the Radio Sloan remix of "Still Still Still", I nearly pumped my fists on public transit.) This is a 9-minute, 3-song release, so you might want to save your pennies for the full-length (out now), but christjesuslord, buy it and meet me near the stage. (MC) - Punk Planet ( #76 )


""Me with Trees Towering" Feature Review"

Portland rockers, Swallows, have made a name for themselves over the last two years as one of the northwest’s preeminent queer bands.

Their stripped down guitar and drums lineup is deceptive. It seems like the lack of members would thin the band’s sound down to the point where to actually rocking could become intangible. But this isn’t the case.

Drummer Jon Miller plays his toms almost melodically. His thick pounding lines fill out the low registers and make almost no use of conventional beats.

Em Brownlowe’s guitar is multi-layered, pouring on coat after coat of textures reminiscent of the best of 80’s dark-wave, mixed with the guts and snarling riffs of early grunge.

Combined with the soulful timbres of Brownlowe’s vocals, Swallows’ sound is raw, glittering, dancy and fist pumping all at once.

The band’s star has been on a steady rise since they formed two years ago. Both Miller and Brownlowe were moving to Portland independently, and met via a chat board a week before they arrived from the East Coast and San Diego.

They went through a smattering of band names, like Led Kitten, and Dirty Shirley before settling on Swallows because of the obvious double meaning of a bird, and swallowing cum.

Regardless of what their name was, they played any gig that came along, assembled a local comp with accompanying festival (We Made This PDX), and garnered enough attention for a packed performance at PDX Pop Now, not to mention a record deal with Churchez La Femme Records.

Swallows’ first album, Me With Trees Towering, was produced by Radio Sloan, an ex-guitarist for Courtney Love and a member of Peaches band. The record delivers all the punch of their live shows, and with a few extras from guest musicians and the studio process, running the gambit from experimental indy-pop to all out r-a-w-k rock.

Swallows is one of Portland’s most exciting bands to watch evolve, and Me With Trees Towering is an album not to be missed.



- The Rear Guard (P.S.U.)


"Swallows Interview about "We Made This" festival"

Why didn't I think of that? We Made This: The ultimate DIY comp.

[ROCK] Two things about Portland music fans: (1) Everyone likes a good mix CD or tape, and (2) nearly everyone is in a band. So why not make a mix of bands you know and have them give it to people? Jonathan Miller and Em Brownlowe of Swallows rounded up 14 local rock acts and gave them all a CD-R in a Ziploc bag with a single photocopied sheet and told them to reproduce and distribute. Now they've got 13 of those acts lined up for a free three-day festival slated for this weekend that—although it doesn't strive for the comprehensiveness and girth of last weekend's PDX Pop Now! Festival—may combine with the compilation to help a group of underground local bands increase the strength of their community with essentially no overhead. WW sat down with Jon and Em to discuss what they made.

—JASON SIMMS.

WW: How did the bands get selected for the comp?

emBROWNLOWe: A lot of the bands are bands that Swallows play with. We probably know two-thirds of these bands. They don't necessarily know each other. We're trying to bring together this whole community and trying to create a new underground scene.

Jonathan Miller: We also found a lot of bands that we didn't know but that we had heard of through other bands or by chance. I was listening to those songs on the PDX Pop Now! website at random, and the Autopilot song came on, and I was like, "I have to get in touch with this girl; she's incredible."

Why the gritty packaging?

Jon: I like to keep the cost [of production] as low as possible, but I know that some [of the included bands] are making their own covers to make it fit into a case. When we originally sent this out to everybody, this was sort of like the default: This is the cheapest, easiest, fastest way. There's no reason to spend a ton of money on promotion when you can do it grassroots. Bands don't need to be fighting for exposure.

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Em: We're hoping that people who get this will think it's a cool concept and do one of their own.

Any tips for someone who wants to give it a shot?

Jon: I would say if you asked a band to do it, and they don't get back to you within, like, three days, just find another band, because bands who don't follow through initially won't follow through later. The concept for this was something we've had for a really long time. I used to live in Massachusetts, and I tried to put together something like this there and it failed miserably.

Em: It was really unorganized, with the bands not being prompt, and it just got to the point where it was really frustrating.

How important is the fact that We Made This is a free comp?

Em: I think it's pretty important. That was one of the things we were explaining to the bands—you have to pull your own weight—and they all knew [the comp] had to be given out for free. It's a promotional item, and it would be kind of hard to sell. These bands are all really on-top-of-it, smart, with-it people. These people are really pushing their art, and that's why they're on it—they want it to be out there.

How successful has the comp been as a promotional item?

Jon: We want each band to make 75 to 100 copies and if a third of those [roughly 1,200] people like your music, and a third of that third come to see you, and a third of that third buy an album, you're still making a profit. [That would make around 44 albums.] We've had a lot of bands come across the MySpace page and be like, "How can we get on the next one?" At least 10 or 15 bands just in the last two weeks since we've really been getting the comp out there.

- Willamette Week


Discography

"Dirty Shirley" LP 2003(self released)
"Physical" EP 2004(self released)
"We Love To Be Astonished" EP 2005(self released)
"All the Wind in the World" EP 2006(CLFP Records)
"Me With Trees Towering" LP 2006 (CLFP Records)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Swallows is a post-modern, psych-emotive rock duo from Portland Oregon whose songs are informed by blues, indie-rock, surf-rock and the rejection of pre-conception. The duo formed in the Summer of 2003 when they converged in Portland - Jon from the East Coast - and Em from San Diego.

The past couple of years has been busy for the band as they went on two west coasts tours and participated in note-worthy local showcases featuring Two Ton Boa, Scout Niblett, Anna Oxygen, Jen Wood, Rebecca Gates (ex-Spinnanes) and Swan Island. Swallows also played at the annual PDX Pop Now! festival 2006 and the first We Made This Portland Festival in August 2006. During the winter of 2006, Swallows teamed up with Canadian film maker, Mark Kohl, and the NW Film Center to star in a music video for their hit, "Flight (Takeoff)", and a short documentary about the band's formation and accomplishments.

Their first full length, Me With Trees Towering (LP 2006, Cherchez La Femme Projects), was recorded by Radio Sloan and received critical acclaim both locally and nationally in publications such as Performer Magazine, Punk Planet, and Skyscraper. The album showcases the band's progressive pop structures and restructured rock landscapes exploring themes of self-enforced solitude, life changes and creative interpretation.

After a successful debut release, Swallows has been challenging themselves with developing a full live sound and writing new material. Filling the gaps with a guitar loop pedal they have been able to create a raw, epic montage of the intricate musicianship they have been commended for over the years. The result is a beautifully messy sound, combining tribal rhythms and off-kilter guitar work that is equal parts early '80s no wave and late '90s math rock. Swallows will enter the studio in June to record a brand new EP scheduled for release on Church of Girl Records.