Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Album Review - Instruments of Science and Technology: Music From The Films Of R/Swift

Instruments of Science and Technology – Music From The Films Of R Swift

The side project of self-deprecating pop wonderman Richard Swift, Instruments of Science and Technology, is less a different sound for the American film-maker-cum-songwriter than an alternate musical universe. His last album, ‘Dressed Up For the Letdown’, was released last year to critical acclaim, a self-conscious depressingly cheerful pop record complete with clanging piano and smiley strum-along guitar. If you loved it, be wary: ‘Music From The Films Of R Swift’ is not cut from the same cloth. This is a dark, experimental avenue for Swift, one that follows in the electronic tradition of some of the most influential bands of the last fifty years.

INST is a revivalist hybrid, reworking elements of dub, hip-hop and contemporary composition into a strong kraut-rock foundation. The opening narration informs unsuspecting listeners, “The best way to relax is to lie down upon your bed and stretch out.” Presumably Swift didn’t intend this to be the soundtrack to his recommended relaxation technique, as what follows is a kind of musical salvia nightmare perforated with swaths of twisted ambience.

Post-narration, Swift takes an aural plunge into the retro-pulsing eponymous ‘INST’, thick with cheese-grating vocoder and strongly reminiscent of the revolutionary industrial sounds of seventies Kraftwerk. Drifting, spacious ambience in ‘Subplot’, ‘Plan A and Plan B’, and ‘War/Unwar’ break up the darker, almost tribal propulsion of ‘Shooting A Rhino Between The Shoulders’ and ‘Theme 3’, whilst the muted groove of the percussion in ‘Ghost of Hip-Hop’ is almost lost in a synthetically hypnotic electro-cloud. What all the tracks on the album have in common is the ability to render vivid cinemascapes in sound, like a twisted modern day Fantasia for a digital generation. Forget melody and convention, INST explores sound on the periphery of human comprehension. That isn’t to say that this is groundbreaking stuff – in fact far from it – but it does cement Swift’s position as a schizophrenically talented, genre-dodging musical innovator.

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