It’s hard to take Richard Swift seriously at face value. He looks kinda like Jack Black and has a similar cheekiness in his music. Also like Black, once you hear how adept he is as a musician you’re likely to be surprised. Unlike Black, Swift is a bit more mellow in sound, his voice sounding like an amalgam of Bob Dylan and Frankie Valli. His surround sound bears a combined similarity to what one would hear on a Wilco album and your local oldies station, all mixed under the purview of Gnarles Barkley’s Danger Mouse.
With The Atlantic Ocean, Swift continues his surprisingly catchy oeuvre after the subtle yet very quality Dressed Up For the Letdown. The Atlantic Ocean is a bit more up-tempo, comprised of a weird yet intriguing inclusion of electronica weaving in between an omnipresent piano, lonely horn section, crunchy guitar and banjo ensemble.
For me, the album starts out as any typical alt-rock album would but slowly morphs into a 70ish guitar driven contemplation, to finally an echoing Motown dirge. And Swift, with all his weirdness, pulls it off. Favorite tracks include the immaculate The Original Thought, R.I.P., Bat Coma Motown, The End of an Age, A Song for Milton Feher, and the ultra funky Lady Luck.
The Atlantic Ocean is one of those albums that sticks in your head long after the headset is removed. It may not win many awards, but Swift proves he has a lot of originality to offer. Those taking a chance on Swift will be amply rewarded.
One might surmise that after reading Lewis Robinson’s collection of short stories entitled Officer Friendly and Other Stories, his setting would most invariably be located in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps in Alaska. Though no less intriguing than the storylines from the shows Twin Peaks or even Northern Exposure, the content of Robinson’s stories actually take place in the surprisingly curious state of Maine.
Robinson’s collection is an interesting insight just beyond the seemingly perpetual thaw of Maine, not only into local hunting or hockey cultures, but of the ever changing relationships formed in the snow, along the coast and within the forest. Often the stories deal with an emergence into adulthood, but more so the rites of passages faced by many in Maine, whatever their ages.
The stories themselves range from the creepy to the serenely cathartic, though like the weather, they’re always in a state of flux hovering just around the thaw. Take for example, the stories The Diver, The Toast, and Ride ; both are increasingly unsettling to say the least, as they introduce to the reader the unfamiliar eccentricities of being foreign to the Northeast. Puckheads, Seeing the World and Fighting at Night, on the other hand, deliver a sense of fulfillment no matter what was sacrificed from each character.
One captivating attribute of the book is that as a whole, time is not necessarily linear. The setting can resemble the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald or perhaps that of last March. Whether duck hunting with one’s father, evading a policeman in the snow, preparing to fight someone named Brick Chickisaw, or leaving home to fish for urchin on a whim, Robinson evokes a sense of wonder and exhilaration regardless of what era he writes.
M. Ward’s latest release, Hold Time, continues his trend of revisiting and perhaps reinventing the good-old-time sound of none other than the good-old-times. An ever-present countrified guitar, mixed with his usual lo-fi and low-key raspy voice, and a really well-conceived set of songs makes makes this his most thorough release evah.
A little more rock ‘n roll than his typical folkish sound, Ward keeps a good balance of electric vs. acoustic guitarmanship, with a subtle string section thrown in for good measure. Add an impossibly haunting duet with Lucinda Williams and a beautiful complement of background vocals from Zooey Deschanel, and you’re left with an album that, like the throwback nostalgia Ward encapsulates, will stand on it own for repeated listening.
Among the many, standout tracks include One Hundred Million Years, Blake’s View, Jailbird, Stars of Leo, and Oh Lonesome Me.