Richard Swift's third album is the singer-songwriter's most charming, well realized and original work yet. If you like Harry Nilsson, Rufus Wainwright, Jim White and Regina Spektor, you may find a new favorite right here. The dude plays the vast majority of the instruments himself on this piano-driven affair. The arrangements smartly mix distorted-sounding percussion and multi-tracked vocals with tasteful little baroque pop elements: strings and things.
Swift was previously a keyboardist for the crazily-underrated CCM shoegazers Starflyer 59, but his solo albums show a lot more sonic restraint. Laconically paced and lazily crooned, Swift's songs are the real focus of this record, and rightly so. A lot of younger singer-songwriters — be they of the so-called "freak folk" variety or those with more of an affinity for Tin Pan Alley/ Brill Building — seem stuck in one mode, mood-wise. They tend to make music that sounds either relentlessly mopey or gratingly, manically happy. Swift never succumbs fully to either pole; his upbeat songs have a melancholic edge while his downers percolate with hope ("I wish I was dead most of the time/ But I don't really mean it, no").
The real thrill of Dressed Up for the Letdown is that Swift seems to be achieving his own voice right in front of the listener, though that could be the way it progresses — unlike so many albums these days, it's not front-loaded with the best songs right from the start. In fact, the final song, the gently acoustic "The Opening Band," might be the best tune about John the Baptist that's been recorded in the past eighty years (check track 17 here). "They tried to kick his ass," Swift lazily croons. "He didn't fight back."