We lost one of the most innovate musicians this week. Richard Swift passed away on July 3rd, 2018 at the age of 41. He leaves behind an incredible mark on indie rock music with a wide variety of incredible credits to his name, working with acclaimed acts like The Shins, The Arcs, Foxygen, Damien Jurado, Tennis, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Kevin Morby, and the list goes on and on...
Swift created a signature sound that blended lo-fi retro production with a uniquely contemporary flare. In the age of generic, glossy pop producers who embellish with gaudy techniques and state of the art equipment, Swift was the champion of the DIY method and quickly rose to become a producing mastermind. He left his imprint on any record and create a soundscape full of depth and heart. Here are my Swift Essentials:
1. RICHARD SWIFT - "LADY LUCK"
"Lady Luck" is the definition of cool and perfectly illustrates Richard Swift's style in one song. The galloping drum and bass intro can't be beaten. Triumphant piano hits accompany Swift's barrage of soaring falsetto harmonies. The verse displays Swift's signature fuzzy vocal tone while still somehow feeling so incredibly pure.
2. SHANNON SHAW - "FREDDIES & TEDDIES"
Swift's final credit comes on Shannon Shaw's solo debut, Shannon in Nashville, alongside bandmate and friend Dan Auerbach. Credited with the drum/percussion track, we feel Swift's presence from the rip. The backbeat rollicks in setting the pace for this minor-key jam. Swift excels at propelling those he's backing up into the stratosphere, adding licks on the synthesizers, piano, and background vocals.
3. KEVIN MORBY - "DRY YOUR EYES"
After the news of Swift's passing, indie stars began posting tributes all over social media. One of the most touching came from Kevin Morby who recalled Swift sitting on the recording of "Dry Your Eyes." The two created a melancholy masterpiece where Swift once again inspires those he works with to do great things. This track is a beautiful, simplistic tune that feels like two friends letting the tapes roll.
4. VALERIE JUNE - "SHAKEDOWN"
Contemporary folk-blues songwriter, Valerie June, turned to Richard Swift on her second full-length, The Order of Time. Swift signed on as producer, mixer, and also performed drums & keys on the record. One of the high notes is the energetic 2-step, "Shakedown. " The staccato electric piano hits, fuzzy solos, and earthy background vocals elevate June's songwriting and provide a lush bed of tones for her incredibly versatile vocal style.
5. DAMIEN JURADO - "A.M. AM"
Good friends, Richard Swift, and singer-songwriter Damien Jurado have collaborated on multiple projects throughout their equally illustrious careers and on Jurado's 2016 effort, Visions of Us on the Land, he recruits Swift to be his producer on this elegant and psychedelic spiritual journey of a record. This the third in an epic trilogy of albums sees Jurado utilizing Swift's expertise to create an otherworldly sonic realm reminiscent to that of fellow Seattle-natives, Fleet Foxes. "A.M. AM" is a flourish of spacey synths, chugging drums, and a cavalcade of angelic vocals. Swift gives us a taste of his timeless vision.
6. SPRINGTIME CARNIVORE - "NAME ON A MATCHBOOK"
Greta Morgan called on Richard Swift for three songs from the Springtime Carnivore self-titled debut. A match made in heaven, "Name on a Matchbook," feels like a lost track from Swift's 2009 retro-pop masterpiece, The Atlantic Ocean. With reverb-y whistles at the start, and Morgan's crooning vocals taking center stage, Swift provides the ammo to ensure she floats atop the track with a throwback delay and epic backing "ahhs."
7. FOXYGEN - "IN THE DARKNESS"
Possibly one of the best creative teams of Richard Swift's career came when he took the reigns of Foxygen's flawless psychedelic-pop odyssey, We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. Foxygen songwriter, Jonathan Rado, held Swift in a heroic light and he got the chance to befriend him on this project that turned out to be a perfect melding of the minds. Kicking off the record, "In the Darkness" showcases both Rado & Swift's melodic strong points and sets the tone for the tripped out opus. Swift is able to tame the wild and debaucherous band known for their offstage antics, and organize Rado's ideas into a cohesive album of pure gold that to this day, serves as the crowning achievement for the band.
8. MARCO BENEVENTO - "DROPKICK"
Esteemed pianist, Marco Benevento, made a career on his virtuoso stylings and epic jams. After a string of LPs showcasing his progressive instrumentalisms, Benevento got the courage to start singing and writing more pop-oriented tunes. He turned to Richard Swift to help him produce a more "indie-minded" record, that he aptly named Swift. Single, "Dropkick," shows Marco's new sound in the best light possible as Swift takes his ramblings and adds texture to the hooks and brings a more dynamic layer. Just another case of Swift making his friends sound the very best they can.
9. RICHARD SWIFT - "MG 333"
Although there are other records that could be mentioned (Tennis, The Shins, Cults, The Arcs, etc), my last two picks come from my favorite Richard Swift record, Walt Wolfman. This is the voice of Swift I love the best. It's innovative, raw, deep, wonderful and strange. "MG 333" plays almost like an instrumental jam, with a sputtering drum/percussion groove that feels like an ode to CAN's "Vitamin C." Swift's crooning falsetto lines fuzzy around from side to side and overlap creating a hazy of soulful goodness. The last minute of the tune drops so pleasantly into a fast-paced lo-fi video gamey sample that bops and boops until the track fizzles and fades. I can't think of anything more pleasing.
10. RICHARD SWIFT - "WHITMAN"
"Whitman" is, in my opinion, Swift's most expansive display of pop creativity. Playing out like a contemporary Harry Nilsson track, he sings an ode to the literary great, Walt Whitman. Striking with such sincerity Swift sings, "Trying hard to do what you did, what you did." It's such a pure expression of admiration and love and he does it in the best way he knows how. The vocal line is pure Swift with his gorgeous signature falsetto backings that croon along with the melody. It hurts to have lost such an incredible talent, and I can only hope that in the future someone will sing a tribute song to Richard Swift the way he does for Walt Whitman here.
Check out my full Richard Swift playlist here: