Of all the ways post-hardcore could have evolved, who could have predicted we’d eventually be talking about something called “Swancore.” The quasi-genre has spun out more significantly than I’m sure Will Swan might have guessed when he co-founded Dance Gavin Dance. At the same time, his signature guitar style is undeniably infectious, marrying nu-prog, math rock, and post-hardcore in a way that’s immediately recognizable. With this being the basis of the style, it’s unsurprisingly broad in its execution, as evidenced by the musical variety among recent highlights like Eidola, Parliament Owls, Raiju, Sianvar, and others.
Based on his work with Strawberry Girls, Zachary Garren just might deserve a bit more credit for the development of Swancore’s sound. He was a core member of Dance Gavin Dance from 2007 and 2010 and has been a session member from 2015 to now, playing on the band’s 2008 self-titled album and its follow-up Happiness (2009). Both albums were key stepping stones from their breakout debut Downtown Battle Mountain (2006) to the sound the band have since settled into with new vocalist Tillian Pearson (excluding the brief return of Jonny Craig on Downtown Battle Mountain II).
The distribution of songwriting credits isn’t typically well established in liner notes, so the extent of Garren’s contributions to these albums are anyone’s guess. But at the risk of blaspheming my DGD fandom, what Strawberry Girls accomplish on Tasmanian Glow is the best iteration of Swancore I’ve heard in years – and maybe ever. Along with drummer Benjamin Rosett (Eternity Forever, The Trees) and bassist Ian Jennings, the trio perform Swancore’s post-math nu-prog formula with exceptional chemistry and fantastic musicianship. Put simply, Tasmanian Glow is nothing short of constant melodic euphoria.
Swancore has its roots in the transitional years between At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, which is on full display on album opener “Bay of Fires.” It’s a bit of a heavier track that contrasts beautifully with the frenetic bounce of the title track. Noodling guitar melodies intertwine with synths and spacey atmospheres, matched in its mood by snappy, syncopated drums and bass. On this song and the rest of the tracklist, Strawberry Girls demonstrate a much tighter and more mature iteration of the Swancore formula. It still presents all the energy of a DGD track, with the added bonus of a more focused, thematically consistent approach to songwriting.
Even still, the band has just as much fun with their music. “Moonwalker” centers around a funky groove accented by the post-hardcore grit you might find on a Refused track. Even the tracks that are more foundational to the album’s central style have a sharpness and vibrancy to them, like the supremely catchy guitar refrain on “Baby Sprite” and the drawling guitar hooks across “Dreamgirl.” The guitar solo that closes out the track is the perfect excursion from what might be the album’s most distinct, punchy riff. And if you’re looking for pure, danceable fun, songs like “Mini Ripper,” “Lovetrip,” and especially “Cradle Mountain” have you covered.
Yet, Tasmanian Glow‘s most surprisingly enjoyable element is the fact it’s an instrumental album. There are a couple of guest vocalists, including Haley Nicole Woodward (Mookatite) on the soulful “Angel Dust” and Andrés on the rambunctious “Party Nights.” But the fact that the trio’s music does all the talking on most of the album is a welcome change from the shoddy lyrical quality you typically find from Swancore. While not a universal trait, DGD certainly set the standard of lyrics that range from nonsensical to gratingly lovestruck. Instead, Strawberry Girls are just great musicians playing greater music.
Tasmanian Glow has both major replayability and plenty of substance to warrant those subsequent listens. Its catchiness is deeper than surface-level hooks and is instead an extension of some airtight songwriting and performances. A “fun” listen doesn’t always remain in my rotation for that long, but Strawberry Girls prove that addictive melodies don’t have to come at the expense of thoughtful compositions. This is the Swancore album of the year by a wide margin; I challenge you to find an album from the style that’s as enjoyable and substantive in equal measure.
Tasmanian Glow is available now via Tragic Hero Records.