Reviews:: Richard Swift Dressed Up for the Letdown

Not much can be said about the new Wilco record that hasn't been said. They are playing the Malkin Bowl on August 20th, which should really help bring the new record to life, but the opening act is a man that should be mentioned. Richard Swift is a song writer, but never has that term been quite so limiting. He has elements of Rufus Wainright in his style, but he also moves away from the troubadour style with some more straight ahead pop wonders and bedroom electronic drum machine ditties. His latest release - Dressed up for the Letdown - is refreshing, challenging, accessible and so much more.

The contradiction of the title really sets the tone for Swift's songs. This record was my first introduction to Swift, and within a few listens I decided his back catalog would be needed on my shelves. He's an interesting man, obviously disappointed with the music industry and riddled with insecurity - as he jumps into the role of a label guy telling him his songs are too sad, he's too fat and he just isn't marketable on Artist & Repertoire - but he uses piano and horns to create a contradictory lush arrangement and doesn't let doubts dominate the theme of the record.

Instead, he writes song that use brass, piano, drums, and electronics - often in the same song to create a whimsical, yet oddly melancholic state. There is a Beatles-ish stomp to The Songs Of National Freedom which moves nicely into the strummed goodness of Most of What I Know. You'd think hearing someone repeat, "your love will keep my heart alive" would come off as cheesy, but the horns and galloping percussion craft the perfect coating for his sugary centre.

He attacks the keys nicely on PS, It All Falls Down and his band backs his double tracked (and vocoder mixed) vocals nicely, but for every built up arrangement, Swift has the security to revert to a sparse piano riff and let his voice carry the load (like the beautiful, remorse filled Ballad of You Know Who or the bedroom rock symphony, Building of America). Sure he adds well placed strings and harmonies, but the track is really just Swift opening himself up to the listeners and letting his insecurities and sympathetic, romantic persona shine through. He's able to recreate that summer drive AM radio feel on Million Dollar Baby, but instead of crooning about Afternoon Delight or Horse's With No Name, Swift's lyrics are a bit more poignant as he laments that he wishes he was dead most of the time, but he doesn't really mean it. The closing track 9oddly enough called the Opening Band) invokes a little Jarvis Cocker swagger to the slow strummed outro.

The record is easy to appreciate on a lot of levels. Swift writes pop melodies that float effortlessly into your headphones and let you zone out happily, but he also writes lyrics that make you want to keep listening and make this record a grower. Needless to say, I'm very excited to see him warm the crowd for Wilco.
MP3:: Most of What I Know

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