Few other talents have been as rewarding to watch develop and evolve as Morgan Nusbaum's. She's played in bands since high school but came to local acclaim as part of the 75s, where she played bass and gave soulful backing vocals to Laurel Mydock's self-proclaimed "girly-pop" songs. But fans of that band's twee pop saw Nusbaum as the vocal powerhouse, and Bruiser Queen became the inevitable platform for her pipes. She's spent the past few years working with drummer Jason Potter in honing the duo's sweet and buzzy brand of garage rock, which made her 2011 solo debut, Let It In, that much more of a surprise. That record proved that Nusbaum can handle the emotional weight of acoustic singer-songwriter territory, but Swears finds her and Potter doing what they do best — tossing off simple, crunchy chords and catty bons mots like doubloons at a parade.
As a rule, garage rock rides on adrenaline, muscle, repetition and little else, so the bulk of these three-minute bashers are heavy on thick, slabby chords and light on dynamic range; Potter's time with lovable east-side Neanderthals Left Arm informs much of Swears' instrumental approach. Opening track "You Are My Only" is rife with windmill guitar chords, but Nusbaum's multi-tracked vocals are another story — studio magic allows her to simultaneously rage in the verse and cool off with disembodied harmonies on the chorus. "Hunnies" in particular shows both the power of restraint and the nuance in Nusbaum's voice as the chorus builds to a desperate peak. Likewise, her release on the breakdown of "S.H.A." shivers like a saw and quavers like a theremin — not many singers can toss in a little Yma Sumac-like exotica in the middle of a two-chord assault. These moments of vocal prowess, when paired with the romantic push/pull of the lyrics, separate songs that are musically competent, if a little indistinct, over ten tracks and 30 minutes. But regardless of the din, it's clear that Nusbaum can clear enough space for her voice to come through.
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