Richard Swift

The Novelist/Walking Without Effort

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Beginning with an arc of distant, echo-laden strings and a chorus of voices that sound as if they escaped from the buried and decaying reels of an aborted Disney film, Richard Swift's Secretly Canadian debut paints a world out of time from the very first note. The West Coast singer/songwriter has no qualms about resurrecting Franks Wild Years-era Tom Waits and filtering it through the "new weird America" sound of fellow crooners Andrew Bird and Devendra Banhart, but he manages to find the perfect balance between melody and texture. It's a lot like opening the doors to a packed speakeasy in the '30s, complete with choreographed dancing and well-coiffed but shady characters shaking hands in the corners. Swift's lo-fi, Tin Pan Alley dreamscapes are as lush as they are distant, relying on everything from barroom piano to programmed drums without ever seeming contemporary. Comprised of two records, 2001's Walking Without Effort and 2004's The Novelist, Swift has taken all of the best sepia-tone instrumental moments from Michael Penn and tenderized them into a hobo dinner with Ray Davies slinging the slop. Listeners will find themselves enchanted, disturbed, and speaking in metaphors for days.

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