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Richard Swift



UPC: 656605024219

Format: LP

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Depending on what you think should count, The Hex is the sixth solo album by singer/songwriter Richard Swift. A posthumous release, it follows his untimely death at the age of 41 by less than three months. As with his prior solo work, The Hex seems to draw influence from across the history of recorded pop music, but with a focus on Tin Pan Alley, the more nostalgic corners of the British Invasion (i.e., Davies and McCartney), '60s soul, and the wittier side of the singer/songwriter era (Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman). He reflects these inspirations and more through a trademark prism of sound that uses Spector's Wall as merely a launching pad. Haunting, melancholy, playful, and irreverent since the very beginnings of his discography in the early 2000s, his solo albums became less frequent as he became an increasingly revered indie producer as the 2010s progressed. Arriving digitally in September 2018 (with physical formats following later in the year), The Hex is his first proper solo album since 2009's The Atlantic Ocean. In the interim, there was a covers album with his friend and frequent collaborator Damien Jurado (2010's Other People's Songs) and the Walt Wolfman EP (2011); the latter marked a return from a fractured finger that had threatened his career as a sideman and inspired the Hex track "Broken Finger Blues." By all outward appearances, he came back strong from that injury, joining the Shins in 2011 and playing bass for the Black Keys on tours in 2014 and 2015. Around that time, he lost both his mother and his sister, who are honored here with the songs "Wendy" and "Sister Song." As confirmed in a press release for the album, while working on it, Swift contended with grief, depression, anxiety, and the alcoholism that contributed to his death and informed "Dirty Jim."
Despite or perhaps in defiance of his circumstances, Swift's sense of humor still shines through on a record that's outrageous and gorgeous rather than maudlin. Opening track "The Hex" is a transportive one that evokes Morricone with echoing flute and string voices, ghostly vocal harmonies, snaps, clicks, and distant thudding drums. From there, the Motown-inspired "Broken Finger Blues" and its Smokey Robinson-like melody reverberates as if from under the floorboards, through the vents, and then into the rafters of a cathedral. The trippy midtempo old-time honky tonk of "Dirty Jim" keeps a chirpy tone through lyrics like "All the poison enemies/All the poison friends to me/I don't know if I can make it through/Every color now is black and blue." Later, "Wendy" references "Da Do Ron Ron," the funky "Babylon" stresses "babble on," and "Kensington!" offers a narrative that seems deliberately impenetrable. In contrast to these, the epic, mournful "Nancy" is the album's most earnest and devastating. Altogether, The Hex is a complicated record of a period fraught with loss and psychic struggle for Swift, and its beautiful, twisted lyricism and memorably stylized sound rise to the occasion. ~ Marcy Donelson


1 - Hex
2 - Broken Finger Blues
3 - Selfishmath
4 - Dirty Jim
5 - Babylon
6 - Wendy
7 - Sister Song
8 - Nancy
10 - Kensington!
11 - Sept20