Richard Swift - Instruments of Science and Technology (Secretly Canadian)
30 Jan 2008
an instrumental, electronical, sountrackalogical offering from richard swift - more residents and sunburned hand of the man than elliot smith and tom waits; release - '08
This is a genuinely surprising recording from a very consistent artist. To give it its full title, Instruments of Science and Technology: Music from the films of R. Swift is a record hard to place amongst genres, as though most of the sounds on it are familiar and I can't think of any boundaries it breaks, everything is done so well and in such a particular way that it makes it an unusually gratifying album.
The approach this album takes reminds me oddly enough of some of the music that John Zorn has composed, particularly the Music Romance series. It's not that the actual content is at all similar, it's more something about the way that this is a nice, light album with a fair amount of variation to it - there is care taken in the writing of the music but it's about as far from overlaboured as you can get. That's not to say it's minimal, as most minimal music tends to be not light at all due to it's general air of seriousness, but I would like to think that Richard Swift's sort of musical practice has grown out of people understanding the ideas of minimal composers, seeing the wisdom in them and then saying, 'yeah, OK, all things in moderation - let's not forget why it is we do this thing called music - we should be having some fun as well.'
The earlier tracks on Instruments of Science and Technology almost sound like they could be some sort of instrumental hip hop music. I'm not going to embarrass myself by trying to give any examples, but this record seems to work through this sound in a kind of urban soundtrack style, slowly getting weirder and weirder until it reminds me oddly of The Residents.
And it's on these later tracks that Swift really shines in this new guise of his. The beats begin to drop off, and the weird background sounds come to the forefront more and more. Then, slowly, the beats are replaced by bizarre bass lines and loads of flange (the guy's evidently a big fan of the flange effect, and who could blame him - what better way to liven up a composition eh?). The first thing you think when you hit this sort of area is Sunburned Hand of the Man, but this is far more carefully constructed than anything by Sunburned... not that this makes it particularly carefully constructed, as there remains a really casual nature to everything that goes on.
The Residents link is a weird one, I'll admit. But there is something about it that strongly reminds me of them all the same. I think it's the masses of reverb and weird rhythmic sounds, reminiscent of some of the bits on Eskimo (one of the best albums ever made), but don't necessarily run to the shops and buy this if you're a big Residents fan, as there's also a lingering dub feel to these tracks. Perhaps a honed down, reigned in Sunburned Hand of the Man isn't a bad comparison after all.
This is clearly not necessarily a typical Richard Swift fan's usual listening, but the easy vibe of the album shouldn't be too taxing for anyone. So why not treat your brain to a broadening experience whilst you're still young? You'll still have plenty of time to become a bigoted boring old stuck in the mud when you finally become a Tory. Make sure you've listened to this before then.
Stream four tracks from Instruments of Science and Technology HERE.