The Moaners

Yep Roc

If Melissa Swingle’s parents didn’t push her into a career in music, they sure prepared her for one: The magnificent onomatopoeia of her name perfectly suits one of the most fluid, mobile voices in alt-country. Back in her ’90s band, Trailer Bride, Swingle sometimes underemoted, more victim than aggressor. But in her new project, the aptly named Moaners, the Chapel Hill, N.C., songwriter joins with Baltimore drummer Laura King in an ill-tempered, hard-swingin’ Thelma & Louise– style partnership. Dark Snack, the group’s long-playing debut, rides in on a wave of feedback before snapping into gear for “Heart Attack,” all grinding, whirring guitars and loosely smacked drums that suggest logging chains and greasy bed springs. There’s a quick bouncy detour—“Too Many People,” in which Swingle whines that “There’s too many people”—but the heavy machinery is back for “Terrier,” not the first song ever sung by a tough chick about an annoying suitor. Here Swingle drawls a shout-out to the breeds: “Hound dogs are lazy but they ain’t mean/Poodles are prissy; they don’t bother me/Beagles are stinky; I wouldn’t have one.” There’s a dig at a guy who “ain’t no Great Dane,” and Swingle protests, “Get off my leg!” in a positively fetching manner. Fewer chuckles are wrung from “Flannery Said,” which delivers a pickup line both Andrew Marvell and Andrew W.K. could get behind: “You can’t get any poorer than that/Yeah, that’s what Flannery said/Thank God I’m not that poor yet/So come on honey, let’s just go to bed.” Yeah, it all rocks pretty darn hard, but the best thing about Dark Snack is how it turns any expectations about Swingle’s new configuration on their heads. “Elizabeth Cotten’s Song,” for example, marries loping ’n’ loud blues to a strangely detached vocal, and “Paradise Club” borrows the “House of the Rising Sun” melody for an empowering little ditty about escaping employment at an Alamance County titty bar. “Don’t have to/Don’t have to strip no more,” Swingle sings with equal amounts of triumph and hurt. There’s sorrow here for sure, but it’s the kind you can dance to. —Pamela Murray Winters

More from WCP