Sweeping Promises hungers for an end to its pandemic pause

The duo plays Rumba Cafe tonight in support of its excellent debut album ‘Hunger for a Way Out’

Kevin J. Elliott
Sweeping Promises

To label a band “buzzworthy” is admittedly a lazy journalistic trope, one antiquated to the ‘90s when a few modern rock radio plays or videos on MTV’s “120 Minutes” gave audiences the shock needed to pay attention. Be that as it may, and given the long dormancy of the pandemic when prodigious music seemed to be sleeping, Sweeping Promises is deserving of the qualifier. 

As Sweeping Promises, the duo of Lina Mondal and Caufield Schnug are as close to a “buzz band” as one can find in 2021, and the pair did it as organically as possible in an era when album cycles fizzle out in weeks. Their sharp debut, Hunger for a Way Out (Feel It Records), was released in August of 2020, with little attention and no reasonable way to promote it other than spreading its vibes through word of mouth and mail order. 

“We had absolutely no expectations,” said Mondal, who joins Schnug in concert at Rumba Cafe tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 9). “We didn’t know, like everyone else in the world, what exactly life was going to be like. We figured someone was going to listen to it, so we just decided it was best to put it out.” 

“We were at a point when we had completely given up and I had these thoughts that this would be ‘future’ music and eventually there would be a ‘future’ listener,’” Schnug added. “But if no one listened to it at all we were OK with that and we put it out anyway.” 

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To add insult to injury, both Mondal and Schnug lost their jobs and had no income to afford rent, eventually moving in with Schnug’s parents in Austin, Texas. Though they had established careers, formed bands and, for Schnug, completed a PhD in visual studies at Harvard, they left their adopted home in Boston practically in the “middle of the night” unceremoniously and without goodbyes. 

Needless to say, the ‘future’ listeners eventually arrived. 

It was hard not to become smitten with an album as magnetic as Hunger for a Way Out. Though self-described as “simple punk rock,” recorded with one mic in home studios and few overdubs, it transcends the tags instantly attached to the band. There are propulsive new wave grooves that are reminiscent of Joy Division, sparse angular guitars that recall Gang of Four or, better, the Swiss aggression of Kleenex/LiLiPUT, and plenty of minimalistic melodies played on sputtering vintage synths. Above it all, Mondal’s classically-trained voice channels Siouxsie Sioux and Deborah Harry with breathy rage. While it would fit neatly along all of its influences, the duo add an element of urgency and edgy pop that sounds incredibly fresh. 

Even if Hunger was completed well before the pandemic, its title track is a moment of rebellion that not only decries Sweeping Promises’ agitprop, but now serves as an anthem for our uncertain times. 

“We wrote that song months before the pandemic and had no idea it would fit now,” Mondal said. “It was a very spontaneous song, a succinct encapsulation of both our feelings of entrapment in the world that we live in, and trying to deal with this capitalist hellhole. It’s also about approaching our thirties, what a lot of people would call early middle-age, and not wanting to buy into where you need to be at that time in your life. A swirling miasma of confusion and stress, but with a raised fist in defiance of all that. Pick your hunger.” 

The song, and the record as a whole, are also indicative of Sweeping Promises being continuously transient, without a permanent home. The duo met in central Arkansas, survived in Boston as habitual “band-starters” (see Mini-Dresses, Silkies, Blau Blau), hid out in Austin under lockdown recording what will eventually become a future release, and are now migrating to Lawrence, Kansas. When I spoke with them, they were adamant that I mention them crossing the Chunky River in eastern Mississippi, giddy to be on their first official tour ever. It’s been another learning curve they’ve had to navigate during the pandemic. 

“We’ve never really had any mental or practical experience for what we are doing night after night,” Mondal said. “Touring in this environment has been learning as we go. Fortunately we have a great team that has made sure that everywhere we have played have enacted measures for vaccine requirements. I feel like we’ve had a great first leg of the tour, but there’s definitely the lack of people freaking out, because I think for a lot of people, and for many of the bands we are playing with, it’s the first time out in a while. There’s still a great energy at the shows, because we are all kind of waking up together and learning about community again.”

Given the reception they received as guests at the heralded Gonerfest earlier this fall in Memphis, Tennessee, the live show is as electric as the record. The community is waking up. The kids are listening intently. And the future is now.