CD Review of California Blur by Swirl 360

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California Blur
starstarstarstarno star Label: Atenzia
Released: 2005

Seven years ago, Swirl 360 was poised for greatness. The front men, then-17-year-old twins Denny and Kenny Scott, had the looks of the Backstreet Boys and the chops of Cheap Trick. Their debut album, Ask Anybody, positively overflowed with smart, insanely catchy pop rock, and sported contributions from the likes Ken Stringfellow and even Desmond Child. With both boy bands and power pop on the rise, it seemed like nothing could stop them.

And then, something stopped them. Their record label, Mercury, was officially dissolved, and Swirl 360 was kicked to the curb, despite receiving some airplay with their single “Hey Now Now.” An EP surfaced several years later, but it was mired in saccharine balladry, with nary a trace of the crackling songwriting the Scotts were clearly capable of. A couple more years went by, not a peep from the Scott camp. The outlook was grim, to say the least.

Which makes California Blur, the band’s long awaited second album (currently import-only, but a US release is pending, and Bruce Brodeen at is selling the import wicked cheap in the meantime), such a pleasant surprise on so many levels. Not only do the Scotts come out of nowhere to release their second record, but it’s damn good to boot. There may not be anything here that hits the same dizzy heights as “Hey Now Now,” “Candy in the Sun” or “Ask Anybody,” but that is hardly the point. The very fact that it holds its own against Ask Anybody is praiseworthy.

One of the most striking things about California Blur -- from the fab leadoff track “Oblivion” to single-in-waiting “Chemical (My True Love)” to straight up power pop jam “Blindside” -- is that Swirl 360 is finally a band, a stark contrast from the mega-programming that ruled over Ask Anybody. Adding Chad Salls on bass and Pete Yorn’s touring drummer Luke Adams on skins, California Blur sounds like the band the Scotts had buzzing around in their heads all along, but were unable to put to tape. This is not to say that they don’t dabble in any studio wizardry (witness the flange on “See You Around”), but where Ask Anybody was assembled, California Blur was made; in fact, it sounds like the band was trying to make their own version of the Posies’ Frosting on the Beater. A lofty goal, to be sure, but damned if the boys don’t pull it off.

For as royally screwed up as the music industry has become in the time since Swirl 360 first hit the scene, where supremely talented musicians have simply quit the biz because they would fare better as a working stiff (fare thee well, Doug Powell), it is a testament to Denny and Kenny Scott’s love for music that they stuck it out this long to see California Blur to its completion. The scene is obviously much different now than it was then, and there is no guarantee that they will be any luckier this time around. But they went for it, dammit, and that’s still worth something, gold records or not. Welcome back, boys.

~David Medsker