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Mute Swan and the Curse of Local Hype

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Mute Swan is a local psychedelic rock band. The quartet just released an excellent five-song EP on the Tucson record label Commercial Appeal. The EP, Ultraviolet, takes the basic template of its predecessor, Feel How it Sees, which was as intoxicating as the synesthesia laid out in its title with hypnotic, Krautrock-inspired circular song structures and instrumental interplay that recalled both contemporaneous efforts by Tame Impala and the groundbreaking sonics of My Bloody Valentine. Now, Ultraviolet rides in on the premise of plenty of worthy second records—from Love's Da Capo to Spiritualized's Pure Phase. Which is to say, Ultraviolet has all of the positive qualities of Feel How it Sees while opening up the sound and the idea; it's everything you liked about the band but new and improved. That advertising cliché isn't irrelevant here–between the financial backing from Commercial Appeal to the group's just-completed West Coast tour to the video premiers featured in outlets such as The Fader, Mute Swan is transparently taking a swing at what remains of the music industry. The band is looking to break into what was once referred to as "the big time" and I should know: I contributed to Mute Swan's press materials along with the PR firm they hired, and that's a disclaimer. All of these actions on the part of the band, and those working for them, beg the question of whether or not Mute Swan will be the band of its generation to have a career outside of Tucson.

There have been many acts that Mute Swan are following in the footsteps of–most recently local rock bands like Prom Body and Katterwaul, both of whom have appeared at one time to be on the cusp of major national and even international recognition; a decade ago, it seemed inevitable that the Deftones-inspired Chango Malo would go on to fame and fortune. Perhaps I'm being charitable, but the jury is still out on Prom Body and Katterwaul's potential commercial breakthroughs, because while Chango Malo disbanded six or seven years ago, Prom Body is working on a followup to its 2014 record, which garnered accolades from NPR to this newspaper, and Katterwaul just got back from gigging in France. And that's stuff worthy of note, but the fact remains that historically, the world–and when I say the world I mean Germany and France likes its Tucson music to evoke a romantic image of the desert, like in the music of XIXA or Brian Lopez or Giant Sand, or the straight-up traditional Mexican music that permeates Sergio Mendoza's eclectic catalog. If your band isn't the sonic equivalent of a '50s Western movie set, your chances of outside recognition are about as decimated as the music industry you're trying to break into.

Right now, anyone's guess is as good as anyone else's, but based on our town's track record, the chances aren't high that Mute Swan won't fade off into the not-so-terrible-at-all fate of settling in to the status of a very popular local band that had a promising moment with the release of its second EP back in 2016.


More by Joshua Levine

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