Fat Wreck Chords
Every great once in a while – even more rarely in the often short shelf-lives of punk bands – a musical relationship is formed between two or more folks that’s jawdropping in its fluidity, versatility and just plain-out fucking rockingness. In their nearly twenty years as a band, the main songwriters of Swingin’ Utters, vocalist Johnny Bonnel and guitarist Darius Koski, have proven themselves over and over again, through nearly two dozen releases and scores of anthems. There’s just something there between these dudes that works, and works consistently and with a terrific amount of strength.
Hatest Grits (which is arguably their second singles/rarities collection after More Scared: The House of Faith Years, which collected their first few seven inches, a comp song and their first ten-inch – back when they still went under the moniker Johnny Peebucks and the Swingin’ Utters) never stumbles, even with a very few unfortunate inclusions, such as the 30-second acoustic clunker “Billy the Poop.” Relying heavily on outtakes from A Juvenile Product of the Working Class and Five Lessons Learned and scores of out of print seven-inches and comp tracks, Hatest Grits acts as that rarest of collections: one that works for both completists and those looking for an introduction to the band. At twenty-six songs (and half a dozen uber-rough acoustic demos tacked on as secret tracks), this album is absolutely fantastic, showcasing a band that’s continually been outdoing themselves, pressing against their own boundaries and coming out victorious for about, oh, the past fifteen years or so.
At their heart, Swingin Utters are a streetpunk band, but one that’s managed to consistently eschew the boneheadedness of that label by having absolutely whipsmart and heartfelt lyrics coupled with musicianship that incorporates instruments (accordion, anyone?) and melodies that your average oi! band wouldn’t dream of tackling. Again, it’s a result of that fluidity and goddamn magic that exists between Bonnel and Koski.
From the Cock Sparrer covers (there’s three of em) to the unreleased demo versions of material off of their first full-length, The Streets of San Francisco, to the later-period outtakes from their self-titledSwingin’ Utters, it’s all consistently catchy yet snarling punk rock – they’re one of the few bands I can think of who’ve managed to mature over the years without ever turning on a dime and changing their sound. It’s never the same song, but you can always tell who it is that’s playing it.
Swingin’ Utters are a punk band. They’re a punk band in the same way the Pogues were a punk band – totally unafraid to explore both melody and the darker rooms of the heart. And this is a punk record, and as a collection it skimps on nothing – the liner notes are extensive, humble and hilarious, the booklet’s packed with photos and the songs themselves, some dating back to 1991, have lost none of their bite or venom over the years.
The only reason Hatest Grits didn’t get a 5 out of 5 rating is because, at twenty-plus songs and years worth of material to choose from, there are some minute jumps in pacing that are a little jarring. But that’s it as far as complaints go. Again, they’re an incredible band, almost all of these songs are top-notch and it’s absolutely great to have them all gathered together. While I still favor A Juvenile Product or More Scared, it’s really not by much, and this one still comes with the highest recommendation. Grab it up.