Raise and Mezcal Head
Second Motion/Hi-Speed Soul

Soon to become, along with My Bloody Valentine and Ride, with both of whom they had bonded over a shared love of the Stooges, a part of the burgeoning shoegaze, Swervedriver merged two seemingly at odds strains of music. There were the lush atmospherics derived from the British mope rock that preceeded them and there was the American vitriol imported from the likes of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and aforementioned forefathers the Stooges. It turned out to be the perfect combination of the cerebral and the visceral, and the band found themselves helping to herald one of the richest periods in Brit rock.

While the band remained active till 1999, they had a lower profile, especially Stateside, in their latter days. However, a reunion last year garnered a renewed appreciation, and now the band’s first two albums—and arguably their finest moments on record— Raise and Mezcal Head, have been remastered for re-release next week on Second Motion/Hi-Speed Soul. (Orders from Second Motion’s website will include signed posters.) With it being at least a decade since A&M let these albums go out of print (Sony/BMG reissued them last year in Europe, no doubt to capitalize on the band’s reunion), it’s reassuring that at least one thing in the world has been set right with these two records back in circulation—and with notes from the band’s two primary members, Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge, and added tracks no less.

As an opening statement, Swervedriver couldn’t have been more sonically eloquent than Raise. This record was a blinding assault of guitars and their afterburn. In 1991, few records before it had both the power and dynamic reach. Had some rockers been given brains or had a group of record geeks finally grown some balls? Moreover, there was a pop sensibility lurking in there somewhere too; songs like “Sandblasted” and “Pile Up” might have been radio hits were they not simultaneously so caustic.

Raise’s impact was probably more dramatic, coming out of nowhere as it did, but Swervedriver cleared the high bar they had set when they released Mezcal Head. Bolstered by producer Alan Moulder (who also filled in on bass), Mezcal Head featured the same potent elixir of molten guitars, but cast in a more dramatic fashion. New drummer Jez Hindmarsh also did wonders for the band, his drumming more on par with the seismic guitar tones of Franklin and Hartridge.

In regard to the new mastering, well we all know how poorly CDs sounded in 1991, and with lesser production values to begin with, Raise benefits more from the treatment. Without draining the fuzz from the guitars, it sounds like a layer of dust has been lifted. Still, CD sound has advanced since 1993 too, so even Swervedriver’s improved sound has been bettered with this rendering of Mezcal Head. The liner notes from Franklin and Hartridge are hardly revelations, so the real treat here is the bonus tracks, which are of such a quality that one has to wonder if Swervedriver ever recorded a bad song. Raise’s “Andalucia” and “Kill the Superheroes” are just as good as anything on the record proper. But the gem of the bunch is the epic, nearly 12 minutes long, “Never Lose That Feeling” that is tacked onto Mezcal Head. Recorded by Moulder but around the time of Raise, the cut begins much like any other Swervedriver song but two-thirds through delves into another realm, sax melding with distortion saturated guitar in what might be termed freegaze. It’s enough to take your breath away, almost literally.

Retrospectively, Swervedriver seems to have taken a backseat to My Bloody Valentine (their reunion as well). But these two records stand up to Loveless and Isn't Anything as some of the best to spring from the shoegaze scene, and now there’s proof once again.
Stephen Slaybaugh