Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Seth Swirsky - Circles and Squares

Primary URL: http://www.seth.com/ 

Seth Swirsky is a man of many hats. Since selling his first commercial jingle in 1980 at the age of 20, Swirsky has enjoyed considerable artistic and commercial success as a songwriter. He’s an author, activist, and visual artist with a respected across the board following. He’s brought his music to the listening public through a variety of projects over the years, band-oriented efforts, but his latest release Circles and Squares marks the third time Swirsky has released a collection under his own name. It is overdue. Circles and Squares is a sustained burst of creativity with few parallels in the music industry of diminished expectations presently enjoying sway. There are sixteen songs packed on this colossus, but not a single song is a miss. Some, naturally, stand out from the pack, but the many years spent honing his craft as a writer and musician has paid off enormously for Swirsky. The release of this album marks a moment when it pays off for listeners in a big way.

An album like this needs an ideal, pitch perfect opener and none could be better than “Shine”. Many listeners will draw the obvious connections between Swirsky’s musical style and the Beatles, but such comparisons only tell a scant part of the story. The strong touch of the personal Swirsky brings to his songwriting, namely in terms of specificity and style of imagery, makes him come off much differently. Some Beatlesque influence persists on the title song, but once again, Swirsky never allows his Fab Four admiration to entirely color the song. Instead, influences such as this and the other iconic acts of the era effortlessly blend with Swirsky’s own well defined pop sensibility to deliver something different.  “Old Letter” breaks the orchestral pop spell with some tempered, but ragged rock spirit creeping into the mix. Swirsky’s vocals are well suited for this sort of middle-ground rock – it doesn’t demand the histrionics of its more dramatic, hamfisted counterparts while still carrying some very assertive swagger.  
Circles and Squares come back to the top shelf pop that begins the release with “Far Away”. This profoundly cinematic ballad has lush textures and subtle musical depths that Swirsky tops off with a stirring vocal. “Let’s Get Married” mixes the gentle with wisps of fiery guitar in the introduction and instrumental break, but it’s a brief confection leading listeners into a much grander song to follow. “Trying to Keep It Simple” is one of the album’s best songs for its artful understatement alone, but the sheer beauty of the melody and its measured tempo takes its audience for an entertaining ride. Much like “Let’s Get Married”, “I Loved Last Night” illustrates Swirsky’s skill for crafting diamond hard pop gems. The multi-tracked harmony vocals work particularly well here. 
The intensely rhythmic drumming and dollop of brass opening “Sonic Ferris Wheel” sets a tone Swirsky soon counterpoints with a jangling acoustic guitar attack. Melodies seem to roll out of these songs wholesale, unbidden, and this is no different. It isn’t difficult to hear the influence of the seminal American folk rockers The Byrds on the opening guitar fanfare for “Table”, but it soon shifts into something much more signature. The album’s closing curtain, “I Think of Her”, begins with a brief bit of ambient noise – a sample of surf crashing into shore. It’s perhaps one of the album’s most delicate tracks with a fond, yet melancholy touch. It’s a perfect quiet closer to an album full of color and ends things with a satisfying note of intimacy. 
4/5 Stars

Lydia Hillenburg

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