Over more than a decade and a half dozen aliases, Lira Mondal and Caufield Schnug have bled the past dry, mining just about every vein of indie rock down to the bedrock. As fixtures of Boston’s DIY scene, the collaborators carved out a wide niche by reshaping nostalgia into various formulae: beachy garage rock (Silkies), gothic minimalism (Dee-Parts), and, in their longest-lasting project, Mini Dresses, girl-group-adjacent dream pop. Their latest, Sweeping Promises, emerged from a converted Boston laboratory to seize the indie-rock science-fair trophy, this time with painstakingly scuzzy ’80s punk that’s convincing enough to sound beamed in from an episode of New Wave Theatre. Hypothesis confirmed: Dial in the right ratio of reverb to fuzz, age the tapes to perfection, and the recording studio can spit you back into any decade.
Now based in Kansas and convinced—whether by monomaniacal obsession or the unexpected support of Sub Pop—to linger in the Reagan years a while longer, Mondal and Schnug buckle down in the workshop (now a former nude painting studio) to sharpen their thesis. Having broken ground on their new direction with 2020’s Hunger for a Way Out, Sweeping Promises now widen it into a crowded highway on Good Living Is Coming for You, swerving through a bumper-to-bumper sprawl of pop hooks.
Time proving its endlessly flat-circle nature, Sweeping Promises arrive at a moment when the bookish rage of post-punk once again feels perfectly suited to pierce the malaise of supposedly “late” capitalism. But rather than tangle themselves up in its noisy machinery with dense instrumentals, a la Squid, or ponder its nauseating surrealism via dense wordplay, as Dry Cleaning might, Mondal and Schnug smoothly pluck out the anxious splinters in their minds like toys from a claw machine. Drawing on an impulse to write what Mondal calls “the parts of songs that I always loved singing really loud at the top of my lungs in the cars,” Good Living Is Coming for You plays like a lost compilation of bubblegum road-trip rock. Think the B-52’s’ “Roam” if the masters were left to cook in an attic for the last 40 years, or Kleenex’s secret soundtrack to a Saturday-morning cartoon.
One by one, the album’s 10 tracks tumble off the Sweeping Promises assembly line, their thrills vacuum sealed almost immediately by a first-thought-best-thought songwriting philosophy. Crack open lead single “Eraser” and you’re hit with a streamlined barrage of crunchy guitar, bargain-bin synths, snappy drums, and, most critically, Lira Mondal’s titanic vocals. Her acrobatic, ear-shattering wail pirouettes to perfection across Good Living Iss Coming For You, all the while uncovering new tricks that stretch the album’s monophonic lo-fi to its limits. Take her snarling cries on the title track, gnashing and hissing at the frustrations of tumbling through declining standards of living, or the gritty alt-rock crooning of “Can’t Hide It,” headbanging its way through block after block of featureless gentrified housing. Multi-tracked, her voice is unstoppable, elongating the title of “Throw of the Dice” into a glittering cascade of descending harmonies and punching the lights out of a hated foe with an army of herself at her back on the gritty “You Shatter.” Mondal’s bold, uncanny knack for convertible-ready shout-alongs bends the lyrics’ sloganeering into mouth-watering neon signs of blinding intensity, sparkling across your retinas and imagination for hours afterwards.
Matching this glorious lack of subtlety blow for blow, the mangled, lo-fi instrumentation prizes melody over texture, piling hooks on top of hooks. Schnug’s guitar stabs and slashes instead of strumming, circling Mondal like a shark with biting two- or three-note vamps and even solos. On the powerful one-two punch of “Connoisseur of Salt” and “Walk in Place,” the confident economy of his playing opens up room for synthesizer and saxophone to add warmth to the grimy background; on the latter, an unexpectedly beautiful pre-chorus bed of calmly pulsing horns slides into place to smooth over its deja vu nightmare. It’s a fitting moment of reprieve and growth: For all its cracked nerves, Good Living Is Coming for You is a record of triumph and gathering strength, of harnessing self-awareness to break out of toxic cycles.
On the closing “Ideal No,” the relentless tick-tock chop of Schnug’s guitar heightens the anxiety of an aging body slipping into disrepair, bludgeoned further by woozy synths. But even as they tally up the damage, Mondal and Schnug are content to shrug it off. Their chirping refrain of “This isn’t ideal” isn’t quite the battle cry of “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” but it feels sturdier and more grounded, a soft cry of defiance from DIY veterans pulling on rusty armor to stay in the fight. The guillotine might not be rolling out quite yet, but Sweeping Promises will have you swearing that you can hear it rumbling into view.