By the time Sweeping Promises released their debut full-length to quarantined acclaim in the summer of 2020, its principals had already been playing music together for a decade; in bands like Mini Dresses, Splitting Image, and Silkies. By the time longtime collaborators Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug became touted as the punk underground’s next great success, they had lived in Arkansas, Massachusetts, Texas, and currently, the college town of Lawrence, Kansas.
Sweeping Promises are a band that moves fast. In fact, the group was born out of a self-imposed creative limitation: if less than 70% of a song is written in 20 minutes, it gets scrapped. Much of their work is influenced by the spaces they record in, especially that debut album, Hunger for a Way Out. It was an album so hotly tipped, the mighty Sub Pop signed on to be the record’s international distributor alongside the label in charge of handling their domestic release. That label is called Feel It Records; for my hard-earned dollar, one of the most reliably great American rock labels putting out music today.
Hunger for a Way Out was recorded in a concrete building, reportedly a repurposed laboratory. The band cultivated a minimalist playing style from the cavernous reverb of the space. The songs were tremendously danceable and catchy, but also were concerned with the suffocating state of what we call “late stage capitalism,” even though “late stage” implies that there is an end in sight. “Upright” is about posture playing into career advancement, while “An Appetite” dives into the intersection between the working class and the stifling demographic known as rich people. “Out Again” and “Falling Forward” both touch on lagging behind in the rat race.
These heady, substantive topics may not have been as heralded as they are if not for Sweeping Promises’ tendency to hide these messages in the Trojan Horse of a backbeat that makes you dance. In the nebulous, barely definable subgenre of post-punk, this subversive approach is par for the course, but Sweeping Promises have few contemporaries when it comes to their pop sensibilities, which make the bite of their lyrics draw blood.
The band’s new album, Good Living is Coming for You, takes some detours from the dancefloor in favor of a more straightforward punk beat — like on opener “Eraser” or “Throw of the Dice” or album highlight “Connoisseur of Salt” — but there’s still a few bangers for those looking to move their feet.
“Walk in Place” is a punk-funk jam built around the groove of the rhythm section; the album’s title track shimmies to make way for a full-throated Mondal singalong; and closer “Ideal No” is just the sort of new wave stunner you need if you get your cardio from dance.
Just as the abandoned-and-converted laboratory in Cambridge influenced the production of Hunger for a Way Out, Good Living is Coming for You utilizes the tall ceilings of their Kansas space, a spacious house with an art studio built in. And if you thought having one of the breakout albums in underground music so far this decade was going to lead to a glossier sound, allow me to lead you to a popular saying about things that aren’t broken. Lo-fi is used to the point of cliché in music circles these days, but the sound of Sweeping Promises isn’t exactly clean, either. In fact, the idea that the band doesn’t labor over their sound too fastidiously or feel the need to record in state-of-the-art studios gives a timeless feel to songs like “You Shatter.”
From a songwriting perspective, the time Mondal and Schnug have spent together — including the 50 or so demos they recorded in Marfa and the bathroom of an Austin, Texas home — has only sharpened their skills. The aforementioned “Connoisseur of Salt” cleverly tackles what is referred to as “sweat economy,” while the album’s title track is a foreboding exploration of lifestyle; the weight of consumerism cracking the well-manicured facade of interior design.
An artist without perspective is no different from an entree without seasoning. Bland, colorless, kind of boring. In pretty much every facet of their artistry, Sweeping Promises have a depth of perspective hard to match. They have the details of their sound, their lyrical concerns, and their presentation as musicians down pat. And Mondal and Schnug have been collaborating long enough to get to the point quickly, as if it’s coming from their subconscious almost. Good Living is Coming for You is a testament to knowing what you want to say as an artist, saying it quickly, and learning how to be resourceful in your environment as you do so. While so much of independent music nowadays is a copy of a copy, Sweeping Promises have managed to craft something singular out of relatively few moving parts.
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