CD Review: Richard Swift

The Atlantic Ocean (Secretly Canadian)

Richard Swift is one of California's many rag-and-bone rockers. His obsession with creating complex, lo-fi, four-track orchestrations is reminiscent of the old junkyard-rock experiments of Stephen Malkmus, Money Mark and Beck. Swift has dabbled in this bargain approach to rich and messy music over eight full-length albums and nine EPs and singles, constantly changing genres (folk, electronic, '60s pop, even Jamaican dub) and names (Onasis, Dicky Ochoa, Instruments of Science and Technology). But his latest album is his most mainstream and focused yet.

This time, Swift is fixated on kitschy, piano-driven power-pop, aping the ivory melodies of everyone from Elton John to Daryl Hall with a sort of Ween-like sarcasm. The album is a huge departure from 2008's Richard Swift as Onasis, an awesomely long and brazen homemade garage-rock project. These new Ocean songs fall into two bodies of water you might associate with Randy Newman: sad '70s-style piano ballads ("Already Gone" and "The End of an Age") and indulgent yuppie '80s pop ("The Atlantic Ocean" and "Hallelujah, Goodnight!"). The album is easily his most accessible and polished; it even has guest stars like Ryan Adams, Mark Ronson, Sean Lennon and Wilco's Pat Sansone (all on "Ballad of Old What's His Name"). It shows Swift can make a concise and radio-friendly rock record when he wants to, stepping out of his basement and into the sunlight of popular and credible indie musicians.

Keith Gribbins