Album of the Week | Sweeping Promises: Good Living Is Coming For You

Music Reviews Sweeping Promises
Album of the Week | Sweeping Promises: Good Living Is Coming For You

How wide is the artistic gulf between pop songwriting and ad copy, really? I hate to even ask; it feels like denigrating one and elevating the other by association. But the uncomfortable truth is there is some venn-diagram overlap in the way each form prizes sticky phrases meant to worm their way into your brain–the way each wants to sink its hooks in you. It’s why indie bands and labels have spent the 21st century pursuing sync licensing as a replacement for record sales. It’s why I can never think of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” without also thinking of a certain product of Procter & Gamble. And it’s why Sweeping Promises’ sophomore LP, Good Living Is Coming For You, cuts so keenly.

The Lawrence, Kansas post-punk duo—singer/bassist Lira Mondal and guitarist/drummer Caufield Schnug—snuck right into the center of this venn diagram on their 2020 debut record, Hunger for a Way Out. The songs paired new-wave melodies and steady beats with a subversive production aesthetic. Recorded under the 40-foot concrete ceilings of a disused laboratory in Boston, it sounded like Sweeping Promises weren’t supposed to be where they were, doing what they were doing. Their strangled synths and scooped-out guitars were distinct and original in their wackiness, like stolen industrial machinery hotwired to crank out the swaggering tunes.

But in addition to Hunger for a Way Out’s singular space, the record co-opted much of its lyricism from daily life under capitalism, in overheard-dialog vignettes like the album’s closing track “Trust.” There, Mondal’s narrator faces a grim proposal: a relationship offer that could also be the subject line on any given promo email from your inbox. “Accept my love, accept my faith and trust,” it goes. “You can’t miss out on this, no!” The story is a contemporary skewering of what E.B. White observed more than half a century ago in The Elements of Style, noting the way the Frankensteined English of Madison Avenue had begun to infiltrate common usage. “You will also, in all probability, want to try writing that way, using that language,” he said. “You do so at your peril, for it is the language of mutilation.”

Picking right up where the debut left off, Good Living Is Coming For You shows Sweeping Promises’ fluency in mutilation. As if the ad executives of the past century weren’t enough, they’ve also got online hustle culture to contend with. And so, even beyond the devilish album title—somewhere between a wellness influencer mantra and a threat—they stuff their songs with sly, loaded slogans. On “Connoisseur of Salt,” Mondal snarks, “Bury yourself in salt / so much flavor”; “Petit Four” is eclipsed by a proclamation: “You get what you pay for!”; “Ideal No,” the brevity of “One touch—so expensive!” rings intimately. Sometimes, Mondal chants one of these taglines hand-in-hand with its own contradiction, as in “Throw of the Dice”: “Think you can take it, but you can’t even take it.” One more arrives on “Ideal No”: “Unnecessary, necessary-sary evil.”

With each paradoxical hook, picture two gears turning against each other until they smoke and glow red. They carry a resonant anxiety: What if there’s no payoff for the treadmill crawl of the working week? What if the grind just grinds you down? Consider the band’s grooviest track, the rubbery synth jam “Walk in Place”: “Ever get the feeling that there’s something you’re supposed to do?” Mondal sings. “Some kind of cosmic order that you didn’t follow through? / Can’t go against the current, can’t shrug off the restraints…you’re just walking in place.”

The social commentary feels sharper here, but otherwise, not much has changed in the last three years; Good Living Is Coming For You delivers more of what made Hunger for a Way Out an aesthetic standout and word-of-mouth underground hit. Sweeping Promises have stuck with Feel It Records even as Sub Pop takes over their international distribution. Their new home in Kansas–which, luckily, includes a high-ceiling add-on originally used as a nude figure-drawing studio–sounds just enough like the Boston lab that gave Hunger its uncanny reverb. They continue to flex their talent for choruses on “You Shatter,” and for powerful, stomach-knotting basslines on “Can’t Hide It.” Mondal’s voice shows the most development, as she uses its rougher edges to channel The Grind–especially on the title track, where the thought of living without learning comes in waves, beating a jagged “AHH” from her lungs with every cycle. As clever and absurd as Good Living Is Coming For You can be, it doesn’t rest on dry post-punk wit.

Look at the way “Eraser” unfolds into Sweeping Promises’ most immediate and undeniable song–as twisted, punchy, and desperately catchy as anything they’ve yet recorded. Mondal sings the refrain for the first time in clear, flute-like harmony with herself. Then Schnug’s kickass drums and rusted razor blade guitars burst in, and, by the end, Mondal is repeating “I can’t face her” like a white-knuckled breakdown in her car on the drive to work. In the song’s ending turn, Mondal’s narrator reveals the true nature of the antagonist in her office power struggle: “I can’t face her / ‘cause I made her, and I gave her / all her power.” In that ragged “all,” you can hear the realization that she’s been working towards her own downfall all along.

Throughout Good Living Is Coming For You, Sweeping Promises out-mutilate the corporate mutilators, taking these fragmented scenes and slogans and holding them up to their lo-fi funhouse mirror until they resemble reality again. Mondal and Schnug are masters of conveying what they call “Generic dread resistant of a label” on “Throw of the Dice”; everything in life that ad copy imitates but never actually captures. That even goes for “Ideal No,” a closing track that doesn’t cohere as well as the album’s highlights. My favorite part comes in the bridge, where Mondal, evoking Pylon’s Vanessa Briscoe Hay, suddenly crows like a bird. It’s one moment of many where Good Living Is Coming For You jolts you to look up from the treadmill.

Taylor Ruckle is an Arlington, Virginia-based music writer whose work has appeared in publications like Post-Trash, FLOOD Magazine, and Washington City Paper. Find him at @TaylorRuckle on Twitter, or on the balcony at the 9:30 Club.

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