wears the trousers magazine

ember swift: lentic (2009)
September 30, 2009, 11:53 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , ,


Ember Swift
Lentic •••
Few’ll Ignite Sound

It’s a sad fact of the music business that new releases often sound a lot like all the other albums that come out at the same time. With a bottom line to think of, many record labels bank on “what works” instead of giving artists the opportunity to create their own sound. That decision for safety keeps the Top 40 full of halfway-listenable music, sure, but it doesn’t allow musicians the space for innovation to soar or fall flat on the strength of their own artistic vision. Well, we should all be grateful for artists who choose to stay independent, like Ember Swift. With her eighth official release Lentic on her own label Few’ll Ignite Sound, the Canadian indie stalwart offers a collection of intricate and genre-hopping tunes that occasionally fall flat, but also soar.

Lentic mixes many styles, ranging from traditional English and Chinese folk to contemporary R&B and progressive jazz, while Swift’s sometimes confusing but always intriguing lyrics overarch the whole package like literate silk. Album centrepiece ‘So Nice’ (and its shortest track) works as a perfect example of Lentic‘s complexity; it begins with a syncopated guitar line reminiscent of a medieval madrigal worthy of a 1970s Bert Jansch track then shifts to a smooth jazz beat before Swift’s low voice comes in with the rather perplexing line, “I went down backwards into time that day”. As the lyric progresses, it becomes clear that Swift’s time travels are of the imaginative rather than the ‘Doctor Who’ sort, recalling a lover who was too nice for her to forget.

Swift’s greatest strength is her ability to fuse incredibly disparate genres in a way that makes sense. ‘That’s Right’ deftly transitions a melodic line from traditional Chinese instruments to electric guitar without missing a beat; ‘Eclipse’ uses R&B-style autotune along with Chinese melodies and spoken-word poetry. But this also proves to be the album’s weakness; Swift is sometimes too democratic in her treatment of genres, resurrecting styles that are perhaps better left in the past. The aforementioned ‘So Nice’ easily mixes smooth jazz and English folk, but it’s questionable whether or not it was a good idea to use the sort of synth beats that make the song sound vaguely as if it should be in one of those old “erotic thrillers” that involved Michael Douglas being naked far too often.

Similarly, ‘Burn’ starts out with cool progressive jazz guitar but soon descends into an early ’90s-sounding, wah-heavy, excessive handclapping mess of the sort you’d get on the cassette tape that came with a ‘Barbie & The Beat’ doll. Overall, then, while Swift is at brilliant at mixing the unusual with the familiar, her songs are at their best when the familiar genres she chooses are ones you’d want to listen to anyway.

Caitlin Ward
UK release date: 28/04/09; www.myspace.com/emberswift

FREE MP3: Ember Swift, ‘Burn’
FREE MP3: Ember Swift, ‘What Were You Thinking’


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