4 to Watch: Richard Swift

Modern Hindsight

Music Features Richard Swift
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Hometown: Los Angeles
Fun facts: Swift is a sometime touring member of shoegazers Starflyer 59 and often trades mix tapes with fantastical pop rockers Eisley. “They are just crazy-talented kids,” Swift says.
Why he’s worth watching: After a weekly residency in August at posh L.A. club Tangier, Swift will hit the road with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Walkmen and Earlimart.
For fans of:Rufus Wainwright, Modest Mouse, Harry Nilsson, Tom Waits

Richard Swift wants you to think his record collection ends in 1975.

And his new release The Richard Swift Collection, Vol. 1, a part-vaudevillian, part-lo-fi double-disc comprised of two earlier self-released records is only the first piece of evidence.

“I’m just trying to get to a debate like [the one] between Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, who were big advocates of the ancients rather than the moderns,” Swift says. “Let’s get beyond the fidelity, whether good or bad, and get to the heart of the matter, the songs.”

Swift’s album argues this very point. The first disc, The Novelist, is a conceptual exploration of Tin Pan Alley lament while the second, Walking Without Effort, sounds like Bacharach reheating the choicest Leonard Cohen leftovers. It’s these textured flourishes that have inspired critics to compare him to fellow L.A. pop sound sculptors like Jon Brion and Michael Penn, a comparison Swift somewhat resents. “I think an appropriate thing to say might be that Richard Swift may have some of the same records as these guys, but a completely different life story.”

Perhaps Swift’s upbringing in a Quaker home, and consequent Protestant work ethic, may account for the two other records he’s been working on, not to mention side projects such as video and film ventures. Perhaps it’s only fitting that—like the other Swift before him—his work is being released in volumes.