More like a eulogy for what was lost than a new chapter, Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride reunite for songs that document their lives since their breakup—and possibly chart a path forward.
While promoting her solo debut, Tourist in This Town, last year, Allison Crutchfield predicted Swearin’ would never play another show. Although she and cofounder Kyle Gilbride had tried to keep their Philly band together after they ended their romantic relationship, they ultimately recognized the untenability of pretending nothing had changed. Tourist in This Town documented their souring status and her profound displacement after their collapse. “We’re pretty far away from Philadelphia, and that’s fine/’Cause I’m really starting to hate you and, anyways, I’m looking to move,” she sang. She soon made good on the threat, relocating to Los Angeles.
What a difference a little break can make. Swearin’ credits breathing room for allowing them to regroup for their third album, Fall Into the Sun, a candid record that plays less like a new chapter than a eulogy for what used to be. “We are both older now/But you still let the music determine how you feel any given night,” Crutchfield sings over blustery, Blue Album guitars on the opener “Big Change,” a song that doubles as her farewell to Philadelphia and the punk scene of her youth.
We already know bits and pieces of this story from Tourist in This Town, which previewed the diaristic, nakedly autobiographical songwriting approach Crutchfield wears like a glove here. The key difference is that, in Swearin’, she splits the lead with Gilbride. On Fall Into the Sun, they alternate tunes, pivoting perspectives from the one who left to the one who stayed and back again. While Crutchfield’s journey required a lot of distance and soul searching, Gilbride’s was more aimless. “By pure dumb luck, I’ve gotten where I’m going,” he sings on “Dogpile,” his dazed warble dwarfed by a hefty riff.
On the surface, Fall Into the Sun sounds like Swearin’ as you remember them—bright, hooky, lovable. After revisiting their earlier LPs, you hear how much has changed. The production is far cleaner, a hi-fi approximation of how lo-fi music feels. Even its fuzziest guitars have luster. Crutchfield and Gilbride’s styles have diverged, especially their pacing. The two used to mirror each other’s rhythms, but now Crutchfield’s songs dash like they have somewhere else to be, as if she’s still trying to put as many miles between herself and her subject as possible. Gilbride’s tunes wallow and amble.
The album requires sacrifice from both writers. Crutchfield has to dial back some of the range she demonstrated on Tourist in This Town, from radiant synths to teases of Americana. She’s so in her element over these roiling tempos, it seems like a fair trade. Only once does she deliver two consecutive tracks, but “Grow Into a Ghost” and “Margaret” are rippers, providing the album’s early peak. Gilbride, meanwhile, risks playing the supporting role to the rising star. (One can only imagine how he must rue comparisons to Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett). He’s not nearly as magnetic as Crutchfield, but he holds his own. His “Treading” and “Future Hell” are knockouts and personal bests. The chemistry between Crutchfield and Gilbride has changed, of course, but they still complement each other.
This story of separation and reconciliation is so vivid that it wouldn’t take much to rework it into a movie script. Despite the forgive-and-forget, time-heals-all-wounds outlook, the album falls short of a happy ending. Swearin’ has announced tour dates into 2019, but you have to wonder how much of a future the band really has once this album cycle ends. These songs suggest the baggage may be too heavy to cart around very long. “It never would have worked out, anyway,” Crutchfield concludes on her intimate final number. For an album cast as a fresh start, Fall Into the Sun mostly feels like closure.
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