“There’s a fire in the sky, no one cares. Temperature’s high, don’t breath the air.” From the jump, Swainn is coming in hot. Using well-crafted lyrics to bring the audience into this undisputedly ingenious mesh of Irish rock and desert folk garnished with sprinkles of modern punk for good measure, Under a Willow Tree is a rollicking third outing for the group. Comprised of a humble eleven tracks that each pack a unique punch of their own, Under a Willow Tree plants its flag in the ground hard. It would feel a little bit like braggadocio if the music didn’t back up the shots called so well. Swainn occupies a space in music that, to some, might feel like an airplane on fire — the bygone genre of sharp-punching Irish-infused punk is enough to make anyone roll their eyes straight out of their head if there isn’t the talent there to justify the approach. Well, if the genre is an airplane on fire, Swainn is glad to take over the cockpit and land the plane safely. That is, after doing a few sick tricks midair, of course.
Under a Willow Tree begins with the outstanding intro track “Voices,” which works as the perfect choice to bring listeners into the album; the lyrics are catchy, the instrumental elements show that they’ve matured even more since their 2017 outing “For the Whiskey,” and there’s a deft bit of turning the genre on its head already at play. “Bag O’ Bones” has been billed as the album’s lead single and it makes sense why — the track features a great melody with plenty of sing-along segments, and will assuredly turn out to be a fan favorite. “In the Morning” is a faster-paced piece that gives Under a Willow Tree even more energy, with expertly-handled strings accompanying lead singer Neil’s vocals at a rip-roaring pace.
“Take Action” begins with a great fiddle riff that opens up into a full-band sound, giving the album one of its most memorable musical moments. “Disrupt, take action, demand satisfaction. Disrupt, take action, know what you’re fighting for!” The chorus rings true in a timeless manner, allowing fans listening now to relate as much as fans that will discover this gem in the future. Another standout from UAWT is the confident “Fairwinds,” which plays like a lean, mean sea shanty complete with yet another great fiddle riff. There’s a tinge of nautical theming that harkens back to Modest Mouse’s “Dashboard,” and the shared kinetic energy between the tracks allows them to be in good company. Each track from Under a Willow Tree offers a unique stance on an otherwise fairly tired genre, and the renewal of such good faith is bound to give Swainn quite a bit more road to go full throttle on.
Swainn isn’t a band that feels breathless at the end of Under a Willow Tree, which is pretty surprising given the absolute nonstop adrenaline rush of an album that it is. Without even pausing to catch their breath, Swainn ends their third effort with a swagger that showcases the fact they could go for another dozen songs, maybe even more. The distinct market the band has managed to corner benefits greatly from Swainn’s musical contributions, and will only continue to do so, come high water or hellfire. Another round, please!