Weirdo Rippers: Schwein! Show Off a More Bizarre Side of Austin Music with The Future is Gnar

Schwein The Future is Gnar

As much as newcomers and tourists like to demand Austin keep it weird, there’s a longstanding disconnect between that declaration and the music that gets supported on a major level. Sure, groups like the Octopus Project make it weird through while wearing odd masks as they do their poppy electro-instrumental thing, but Austin’s true musical weirdos are usually ignored in favor of neo-folk acts and MOR rock. I’m not so optimistic that I’d predict Schwein! are going to change all that, but their new album The Future is Gnar is a bizarro pop triumph that mixes strains of glam, punk, indie and country, resulting in a frightening yet intriguing musical monstrosity.

In look and philosophy, The Future is Gnar could realistically be held up as an Austin response to Slanted & Enchanted two decades after the fact, but if there’s a unifying flavor to the album it’s Schwein!’s subtle updating of Laurel Canyon techniques. The album’s best moments are full of twangy guitar and lush melodies, like “Dirty Dream Number 7,” a beautifully arranged mini-epic that does a little Mamas & Papas tease at its start before shifting gears and becoming a Gram Parsons-indebted county rock stomper. Dan Duszynski’s production is responsible for much of the success of that integration, the three pronged vocal attack is seamlessly mixed, crystal clear but given enough of a rough filter to make it interesting rather than sterile. Though Schwein! is a massive band with six members in its ranks, Duszynski keeps that kitchen sink approach to staffing from becoming cumbersome; each ingredient gets at least a moment to shine, but the careful orchestration and arrangement forces you to return repeatedly in order to get your fix of the song’s best, most subtle elements, like Zach Moulton’s pedal steel.

Over on the opposite end of the spectrum is “You Are Dead,” where the band emphasizes its punk tastes and Duszynski ably follows along, cranking the dials fully into the red to create a thick, crunchy tone. Lyrically the song is like a dumbed down, brattier take on Jim Carroll’s “People Who died;” it’s less of a remembrance of people who died for stupid reasons than it is a blunt listing of people who are probably dead, with lines like “Jerry Garcia, he’s definitely dead” and “You’re out walking your dog/You’re probably dead, too.” I’ve never been so entertained by a prediction of my likely fate.

The band’s sound is more contemporary on “Pretty Little Blonde,” with its California gutter punk tempo and Thee Oh Sees approach to halting melodic cadences. Here the lyrics are just as charmingly goofy, mostly just riffs on the title of the track, but the sonic construction is more aggressive, the subtleties of the harmony driven moments of the album jettisoned in favor of an all out blitz. Though it’s slower in tempo, album opener “Concrete” is similarly blunt, only instead of garage rock traits it has the junkie swagger of Royal Trux, complete with nonsense phrases like “Oh yeah, you’re concrete, baby” sound seductive and astute. “Miss This Place” is glammier, providing a reverb soaked lead vocal and some catchy as shit “whoo-ooh-ooh” group vocals for the chorus, as well as lead lines that are in full on Johnny Thunders mode. There’s even a nod back to Austin’s own weird past with the 13th Floor Elevators’ flavor of “Texarkana,” a psych-garage number that also mixes in some of the most country rock influenced guitar on the album.

Pinning down Schwein!’s sound is next to impossible, but that gonzo approach to genre also functions as the band’s defining trait, showcasing their chameleon talents while emphasizing the musical diversity of the band’s hometown. The playfulness of Schwein!’s dabbling makes it hard not to fall in love with The Future is Gnar in all its weird glory.

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover