July 18 2012 02:46 PM

Alt-rockers are big on intensity, low on imagination

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East of Sweden Sink or Swim (self-released)

East of Sweden is the kind of band that's adored by people who don't know anything about music. On its new mini-album, Sink or Swim, the alt-rock trio does everything you'd expect a soul-baring alt-rock band would do, delivering every verse, riff and beat with a massive dose of earnest intensity. Alas, what they really need is some good humor and imagination.

In eight tracks and nearly 27 minutes, East of Sweden constantly ramp up the intensity of their emo-tastic post-punk. "Faceless Crowd" is an epic burner with angular, Mars Volta-esque riffs and frenetic, At the Drive In-like drums. Meanwhile, "Single File" crosses a tense, Yeah Yeah Yeahs-y guitar line with a Disturbed-style war tattoo—which will surely excite anyone who's dying to hear a cross between "Rich" and "Down With the Sickness."

To their credit, East of Sweden have a good ear for tone and texture. With the help of Mario Quintero at Black Box Recording Studios, the album's production strikes a nice balance between indie-rock rawness and radio-ready gloss. So while East of Sweden often resembles the relatively obscure post-hardcore band Q and Not U, the swooning rocker "Secret" would sound right at home on commercial radio.

The problem is, everything on this album just feels so generic. Despite all the band's heavy-handed emoting, the melodies don't actually have any emotional pull. And these guys aren't very good lyricists, either. The maudlin rocker "Cabin Fever" alone has enough cliché lines (Help me Retrace the steps") and tortured platitudes ("We're too far away!") to fill an angst-ridden high-school kid's notebook.

Of course, the average bar-goer would probably still dig Sink or Swim. It's so serious and so full of energy that if you didn't know any better, you wouldn't realize it's all been done before—with much better results.


Email peterh@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.

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