To return to Van Dyck Parks. If you like his two LPs Discover America and the Clang of the Yankee Reaper (both whimsical psychedelic masterpieces that drew heavily on the 1930s and 1940s dance band and show tunes for inspiration) then you'll love this. Only a guess on my part mind…
Richard Swift - The Novelist & Walking Without Effort
Oi! Who mentioned Van Dyck Parks? Sorry, just me being disingenuous. I'll return to that theme later on, in the meantime presenting you with a review of these two LPs, attractively packaged on one CD.
Firstly, lets tackle the new one, The Novelist.
Foreward starts like an old movie, crickets chirruping and sonorous strings; I'm just waiting for Bogey to say something cynical to Kate Hepburn. Lady Day is a faux-naïve melody, born aloft by a lovely stumbling piano part and some kooky background sounds in the background. Vocally the sugary harmonies are very much akin to those practised by Super Furry Animals, something that - as regular readers will know - Incendiary applauds most heartily.
Lovely Night evokes a feeling of 1920s Chicago with its slightly tipsy sounding trumpets – this could be a show tune out of Guys and Dolls. Swift adopts the languorous tone of a roue who has seen better days, only to drop this guise in order to allow himself the chance to sing a beautiful, (ever so slightly) falsetto chorus part.
Sadsong St. has an air of a melancholy 1930s dance band number; evinced chiefly by the jaunty "pick yourself up by the bootstraps and whistle a happy tune" quality of the verses. Blues for Mother is, in effect a lovely music box chime The Novelist is a sepia-tinted piano soliloquy in a dead-beat bar with a lovely refrain. This song has a comforting melancholy to it, aided by the accordion wheezing away in the background. Ballad of Clifford Swift is like Blues for Mother, a recording made "outdoors". A rusty recording of a keyboard of sorts allows a charming interlude. Looking Back I Should Have Been Home More is the stand out track, a beautiful, sparkling piano coda augmenting the world weary melody.
To return to Van Dyck Parks. If you like his two LPs Discover America and the Clang of the Yankee Reaper (both whimsical psychedelic masterpieces that drew heavily on the 1930s and 1940s dance band and show tunes for inspiration) then you'll love this. Only a guess on my part mind...
The second album, Walking without Effort, is a more up-beat record. The sound is less grainy for one thing, evoking more of a pastoral air. The first track, The Walking Without Effort Theme is very sweet indeed. Half Lit is as happy-clappy as Richard Swift will get, I think. There is a definite feel of Belle & Sebastian here (maybe it's the muted brass section and the hand claps). You could definitely read the papers in bed to this... Okay you've had the happy track. In the Air quickly imbues more of a melancholy tone (albeit keeping the same warm instrumentation). Actually, the subdued nature of the playing coupled with the steady, almost deadpan vocal delivery imparts a quiet strength to this love song.
As I Go sees a return to the sunny uplands. It's another love song, this time celebratory in tone. As if in confirmation of this new mood, there's even a Beach Boys style clippety-clop horse hooves noise in the background, which I always recognise as the sign of quality. Church bells usher in Above and Beneath - oh hell, this isn't a song about the nature of mortality is it? – it seems so, as it's a slowie. It's nice though A blast of harmonica brings on the best track so far, Mexico 1977. This is quite sinister stuff, the rumbling brass section should make that clear. There's a great ba-ba-ba tail off as well, all nice and quiet like.
I thought the maudlin guitar strumming on Losing Sleep augured another quiet reflection but instead allows the sonic tension to build and develop into a cracker of a torch song. It's a cracker, Beatles-esque backing vocal parts, strings, steady drum beat... it's all there. There's even a cute toy piano part as a breaker. The penultimate track Not Wasting Time, is a total contrast; stripped down, bleak and sombre; just Swift and the piano doing the lonely bloke act.
I'm now left with one last track to review, that being Beautifulheart. Where Not Wasting Time was maudlin, Beautifulheart is upbeat. A chiming bell arpeggio ushers in a lovely chorus. Hell, we even get electric guitar. It is indeed a lovely ending to a great LP. One for a lazy Sunday morning's reflection.
Words: Richard Foster.