Upon hearing that Instruments of Science and Technology is pop wunderkind Richard Swift’s instrumental/electronic project, two quandaries occurred to me: 1) Is it necessary to be familiar with Swift’s work in order to “get” this project? And, 2) Given that “Richard Swift” is not exactly a household name, why would he spend time on the ever-deviled side project? The short answers to these questions, upon exploration, are as such: 1) No, but you should be listening to Richard Swift, and, 2) Because Richard Swift is awesome.
It would be something of a waste of space to write extensively on the brilliance of Swift’s material de nom because, frankly, Swift’s past releases have little to do with Music From the Films of R/Swift. More in the vein of Caribou and Four Tet, or perhaps more accurately the instrumental sides of Brian Eno circa Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, Instruments of Science and Technology explores the extremes of structured instrumental electronic music. It’s at times ambient and calming but at others jarring and glitch, in a captivating way that makes your heart want to jump along with the skipped beats.
The record begins with advice on relaxation that seems, by the end, ironic. A calming voice says, “The best way to relax is to lie down on your bed and stretch out,” which launches us into a synthetic blur of Kraftwerk, but harder, and it becomes quickly clear that Swift’s creations are somehow paradoxical. They beg you to do just as the faceless voice says, to lie down and relax. But just as strong is the urge to tap your toe and get dragged into this mechanical world.
Swift is obviously familiar with the facets of instrumental and electronic music. In the same way that he fashioned The Novelist with a variety of musical muses, Music from the Films of R/Swift treads water in the vast field of electronica. The record might find problems in that the resulting collection is perhaps more schizophrenic than purists in the field would like, and not nearly as accessible as Swift’s more traditional recordings. What’s clear, though, is that Instruments of Science and Technology is an entry into Swift’s grander image of the contemporary musical, nay artistic, state. Swift’s throwback melee of pop couture on Dressed Up for the Letdown and, particularly, The Novelist, exist as part of Richard Swift. There are many other parts, complex parts that find Swift as part-time filmmaker, part-time DJ, and full-time renaissance man. He’s an ideal when it comes to our modern definition of artist: comfortable in many mediums and unafraid to experiment. Yet still each stroke of Swift’s brush feels distinctly his. Music From the Films of R/Swift might sound as experimental as anything, but it’s somehow clear that no one could have conducted this wild experiment besides Swift himself. And having that auteuristic touch is priceless.
The bottom line is that Music from the Films of R/Swift seems, if nothing else, to be a creative outlet for Swift. It’s not the world’s greatest record by any stretch of the imagination, but with this soundtrack to films that might or might not exist, Swift is on to something. And as with any artist who has a lot of ideas on his or her mind, and Swift’s prolific output over the past several years leads us to believe Swift is one of these minds, it’s important to exercise practicality in order to get the appropriate brush strokes on the appropriate canvas. To say that Music From the Films of R/Swift feels like Swift getting this electronic urge out of his system, so to speak, doesn’t quite give Instruments of Science and Technology enough credit as a project, or Music enough credit as a record. The result, though, doesn’t seem so different. By focusing all of these electronic urges in one space, Swift can perhaps focus better on the voice he needs to make Richard Swift records. And in the meantime, we listeners, we gluttons for more and more and more, can have our cake and eat it too.