ALLMUSIC: 4 star “Editors’ Choice” album review for Swarming Branch's 'Surreal Number'.
The Columbus, Ohio-based indie pop group Swarming Branch aren't easy to pin down or explain, and their 2017 album, Surreal Number, doesn't fit easily into any one category. Sometimes they sound like a sweet Belle and Sebastian-like pop band, with warm chiming marimbas and humming organs, like on "All I Wanna Do, Pt. 22." Sometimes they give off serious low-budget Beck vibes, like on the slow funk jam "Zsazsur's Real Estate Song." Sometimes they take laid-back Southern rock ballads and give them a spacy, synthesized twist ("Love in Extra Innings"); other times they dip into oddball folk ("In the Garden of the Gods"). Once or twice, they do things that are liable to leave the listener wondering what the hell just happened. "Initiation" is a super cheesy, totally wonderful warped pop take on glam rock and Norman Greenbaum, while "Laid back and Practical" is a wobbly little pop song with equal parts Joe Meek and Ray Davies running through its DNA. In between the moments of weirdness and wonder are some solid indie pop songs, full of cute little hooks, lyrical insights, and low-key charm. The band is led by singer/songwriter Andrew Graham and he's got plenty of good ideas that were clearly derived from years of listening to eccentric pop music. His cohorts in the band, especially keyboardist Dane Terry, are there with him every step of the way, backing his every twist with just the right synth sound or tight drum fill. Producer Rob Barbato deserves a hand too, both for his bubbly bass playing and the skill with which he takes Swarming Branch one step away from the bedroom and one step closer to the mainstream of indie pop without losing any of their intrinsic eccentricities. This is a great-sounding record that would probably be a blast to listen to even if it wasn't constantly dropping in off-kilter surprises. It's much better for all the weirdness, though, and if any indie pop fans are bored with the usual and are looking for something out of the ordinary, Surreal Number would be a fine choice to help break out of the every-band-sounds-the-same doldrums.