Cars and Guitars: Swervedriver’s Raise – By Zach Hawkins

Swervedriver released their debut album ‘Raise’ in September of 1991 (the same month that saw releases such as ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’) on Creation Records. This label also released other prominent shoegaze albums, like the genre-defining loveless by my bloody valentine and ‘Souvlaki’ by Slowdive. But ‘Raise’ has a much different sound from these shoegazing ventures. It draws more from bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth than the syrupy wall of sound effects more associated with the genre. ‘Raise’ has a hard-rock base, and the lyrics are about speeding down the highway to get away from it all; not the soft and flowery lyrics one might expect. 

Songs such as ‘Son of Mustang Ford’ (with lyrics like “I’ve been drivin’ to take the pain away”) and ‘Pile-up’ (“Let’s just get in the car and let’s just drive”) show the heavy car-culture influence on this album. This is inspired by the car’s historial prevalence in music, especially rock’n’roll. In an interview with Vice, Adam Franklin (lead singer of Swervedriver) mentions artists like Chuck Berry and T-Rex who made a lot of references to cars in their songs, and the band wanted to replicate this in their own way. 

One song on this album that really stands out to me is the fifth track, ‘Rave Down’, which captures the album’s essence with fast drums and swirling guitars. The lyrics describe a run-down town (“Your town ain’t hypin’ up no more”), where the protagonist drives down to the beach late at night with his friends just to have something to do. However, this is more of an escape than anything and it is only a momentary pause from the dullness of living in a dead town on the coast. Sonically, the song reflects this feeling, with the main riff using a descending dissonant chord progression giving the song a dejected sound. The bridge is more upbeat, the drums pick up and the guitars are happier, but like driving down to the beach, the momentary joy fades back to the reality of having “just no place to go”. 

Most shoegaze albums will have you lying on your bed while letting the whirring sound wash over you, but this album is different. It has a similar sense of melancholy, but delivers it more intensely. You can rock out to it, but you can also sit with it and feel the music. The lyrics are about cars, but not about sports cars and girls, instead using cars to get away from everything. This polarity relates to the album as a whole; at surface level, it’s hard-rocking and carefree, but it is also profoundly reflective and emotional. 

‘Raise’ is a great album, but in the midst of other albums released around the same time, it has been mostly lost to time. Many shoegaze fans remember bands like my bloody valentine, Slowdive, and Ride, but Swervedriver was left behind, possibly because they weren’t so easily placed in a genre. They were too ethereal to be grunge, but they rocked harder than their shoegaze counterparts. This makes ‘Raise’ a really unique album, and one definitely worth listening to despite not being as well-known. While the album can sometimes sound a little repetitive, this comes with the genre and I do not think it detracts from the album. I would give ‘Raise’ an 8.5/10. If you are a fan of shoegaze or related genres, I would highly recommend giving ‘Raise’ a listen.

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