When news of your latest album is prefaced with "recorded in Wilco's studio on an analog tape machine sold to Swift by Jeff Tweedy and featuring talented guests such as Mark Ronson and Ryan Adams," expectations are raised.
Singer-songwriter Richard Swift's Atlantic Ocean, newly out on indie-stalwart label Secretly Canadian, doesn't disappoint. This is the sort of music that inspires such adjectives as "infectious," "poppy," "peppy" and "rollicking" -- music that compels head-bobbing and foot-tapping. The title track leads off the album in jaunty fashion, the beat bouncing along so cheerily that the "you're gonna drown" refrain feels more like a celebration than a warning. But Swift is no lightweight. Piano-based, flavored by synthesizer, sounding at once familiar and novel, his songs are marked by a rare ability to pull together a number of influences and sounds into musical cohesiveness. "The First Time," for example, sounds almost like a song you've heard a thousand times before, imminently catchy, melodic and reminiscent of such luminaries as Randy Newman and David Bowie, yet enjoyable all on its own.
Swift's lyrics rank somewhere between Elvis Costello sardonic and Elvis Perkins poignant. In "R.I.P.," he sings, "Everyone knows when they're gonna die/spend your prayers/I'm an unbeliever/and I don't feel right/I can barely sleep at night/got no one to make me cry" -- hardly cheerful and yet it, and the similarly bummer-themed "Already Gone," somehow serve to lift the spirits. "The End of An Age" showcases his falsetto, which admittedly drifts towards a Dylan-esque nasality at time -- in a wistful break-up number.
Describing Swift's music without referencing other artists is nearly impossible and could even be considered misleading. He's often compared to Henry Nilsson. But the echoes of other musicians is a compliment in Swift's case, not a condemnation.
The album's first single, "Lady Luck," serves up vintage-sounding soul, helped toward nostalgia in large part by Swift's use of an antique tape machine for recording. The machine originally belonged to Wilco-frontman Jeff Tweedy, who first invited Swift to open on Wilco's Sky Blue Sky tour, then offered up Wilco's Chicago loft. According to Spinner.com, Swift spent three days cutting seven songs in the "fabled" location. A fan of analog warmth, Swift bought the recording device from Tweedy for future use.
The Wilco connection doesn't stop there -- Wilco's Pat Sansone handles bass duties on Atlantic Ocean. Swift's music certainly works with Wilco's -- to hear them side-by-side on the radio would not shock a listener -- but he was also asked to open for indie rockers Cold War Kids and fits just as well there. Versatility is a wonderful thing.
Swift opens for dream-pop darlings Vetiver in HSU's The Depot on Thursday, April 16. Tickets are $2 -- yes, two dollars! -- and available through centerarts.humboldt.edu or through the University Ticket Office.