Some say you have a lifetime to make your first album and six months to make the second. The second album syndrome is when a band found success with their debut and are under huge pressure to record and release a follow-up before the hype disappears. On the surface, gothic outfit Swarme of Beese fit the decription. Their first album "Backwoods of my Mind" was released in 2022, read more here (opens in a new window). Now they are back with their second album "Fruits of the Golden Land". However, the second album syndrome is irrelevant here. Why? First, this isn't their first rodeo and the new album is technically their third album. The debut album "A Handful of Locusts" was released in 2010 under their old band name, The Victor Mourning. Second, when "Backwoods of My Mind" was released they were almost done recording the second album. Third, there is no hype to consider here. You see, this isn't a fumble attempt from young and anxious Austin-hipsters. On the contrary, this is timeless music from three experienced and perfectly attuned musicians. From the product declaration: "The album is a collection of sonic postcards from an allegorical road trip through the back roads of the American landscape, with detours to haunted places where memories & dreams intersect. The pastoral journey meanders along the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, across the prairies & cornfields of the heartland, and through the Ozarks, the Piedmont, & the coal fields of southern Appalachia. The tales woven into the shadows of these places are razor-edged and real, steeped in history & imbued with spirit of place, with an American gothic undercurrent. Honest vocal performances are enveloped in textural harmonies and atmospheric arrangements to form the band’s mutant folk sound."
The album begins with "Turpentine". The lyrics deal with cheerleaders, shovels and graveyards. I don't think the lyric content describes the band's everyday life. "We been talking all night a'drinking. We been drinking turpentine". Well, turpentine exposure causes eye irritation, headache, dizziness and vomiting. Breathing or swallowing also causes kidney and bladder irritation. A shocking and rocking opening song with hilarious lyrics. The first part of the album is a roller coaster ride with fast and slow songs. For example, the contrast between the first and second song couldn't be greater. The second song is "Ashes & Holy Water". Simple song construction, traditional country arrangement and crystal clear vocals. The song is beautiful. "I wanted you to write me a letter on a dusty boxcar wall". The third song is "Angel on Wings of Steel". This song is hard to characterize. On one hand, simple contruction, distinct chords and a groovy beat. On the other hand, there's something contradictory and enigmatic about the song. I can't really put my finger on it. The fourth song is "Bright October Day (Omie Wise)". The song has all the desirable features of Swarme of Beese. Melancholic to the brim and stripped down to the bone. The lyrics is like a knife that cuts right through your soul. "The rich will always crush a poor girl's dreams. I'm not the hero of this story". The arrangement is impeccable. Without any doubt, one of the best songs on the album. The fifth song is "Iowa Dirt". This upbeat and playful song is built upon guitar and violin harmonies. For a while, you want to dance. I don't know if this was the intention.
The sixth song is "Twenty Eyes". In my opinion, here is where the album really takes off. What can I say? The song is pitch black. A gothic streak runs throughout the song, from the first to the last note. "I'll play the martyr or the wrathful God...Twenty eyes to witness my sin, Lord. Twenty eyes on me". Doom and gloom in abundance. The seventh song, "Year of Dickens" is another great song on the album. Not surprisingly, it has a Dickens-vibe all over it with vocals, guitar and violin in beautiful harmony. The eight song is "Distant Father", which is my personal favorite on the album. The song has everything you can possibly ask for. The songs ends with thunder cracks and rain. The ninth song is "Goldie Pearl (Little White Dress)". This is songwriting taken to perfection. "They say Goldie Pearl, well she weren't much to look at, and never once spoke of any dreams of her own, the pond 'neath the spring that falls from the mountain, was as far as she'd ever been from her home". The pitiful lyrics are sung with emphasis and ardour. The tenth and last song is "Cellar Door". The song structure is odd and quirky, yet catchy. "Lines of oxy on the dash, copper wire in the back. He stole from somewhere down in Tennessee. It's happening like it did before. Knocking at my cellar door. Hearing all the things you used to say. I can't take it anymore. This knocking at my cellar door. Remembering it like it was yesterday". A perfect closing song.
And finally, the overall assessment. This a another great album from the Austin trio consisting of Stephen Canner, Lynne Adele and Stefan Keydel. It's overflowing with energy, talent and versatility. The songwriting is exquisite and the arrangements are euphonious. Obviously, Swarme of Beese are reborn, reformed and refined. You can listen to "Fruits of the Golden Land" and buy it in the format of your choice at Bandcamp, just click here (opens in a new window).