Swearing At Motorists

Last Night Becomes This Morning

(Secretly Canadian; 2006)

By Sean Ford | 15 November 2007

Channeling the half empty dive bars and concert halls the band frequently plays to, Last Night Becomes This Morning is the exhausted, beaten down sound of the nineties lo-fi movement years after the party ended. Indeed, the Dayton, Ohio-based band has ties to lo-fi demi-gods Guided By Voices and Swearing at Motorists frontman Dave Doughman often sounds like a road-weary Robert Pollard. Recorded on the road, at sound checks, on the van and in hotel rooms, the album chronicles the struggle of living away from home, chasing a dream you know no longer exists. But somehow, Doughman is able to find something worth fighting for in the long lonely nights driving from small town to small town he chronicles here, turning boredom and defeat into triumphant rock songs whose exuberance belie their desperate underbelly.

The album opens with resigned sigh of “Losing the Battle, Losing the War,” perhaps failing to concede that this particular war is long since over, but picks ups immediately with “Northern Line.” It features Doughman pining for a lost love over chunky power chords, his ragged baritone sounding like an upbeat Bill Callahan and recalling Darren Jackson’s better work as Kid Dakota, a similarly off the radar Middle American troubadour. “Timing is Everything” is a deceptively upbeat bar rocker that shows a nod to early Kinks song-writing and finds Doughman willing to accept his lot as an also ran, if only he could afford a double bed and a dining room table.

“Still Life with Bottle Rockets” is another catchy gem built out of nothing more than the steady hand of drummer Joseph Siwinski, Doughman’s scraggy voice and melodic guitar. Doughman’s ability to turn a song about a broken life that didn’t turn out the way he wanted into a near anthem celebrating that life makes it almost impossible to root against him, his ability to turn something so depressing into something so soaring makes it impossible not to bob along. “Waterloo Crescent” and “Slave to the Kettle” continue in a similar vein, songs that are simultaneously defiant and resigned.

Though the album is predominantly two-minute pop songs, Doughman will mix in the occasional slow, depressed elegy to the career that never was, as on the slit-your-wrists lullaby, “Time Zones and Area Codes.” There aren’t many of these moments, but on these types of songs Doughman’s resignation overtakes his ability to transform these bitter experiences into something more. Fortunately, his defiant side wins out more often than not.

I suppose it could be said that Swearing at Motorists serve as a warning sign to young bands who think that fame is right around the corner and that if they just keep working hard they’ll make it. Swearing at Motorists are proof that sometimes fame is never right around the corner, but, Doughman and Siwinski have found that sometimes the journey and the hard work and their own reward. The two grizzled road warriors have created an album of stripped down indie-rock that finds beauty in never quite making it, but playing music for the love playing music every night, whether the hipsters notice or not. And though I doubt this record will do anything to improve their prospects, I’m guessing Swearing at Motorists are okay with that.