Spins and Reviews | 8.11.16 | by Alan Haber
Seth Swirsky | Circles and Squares
Listening to and absorbing and becoming one with the songs contained on Seth Swirsky’s amazing new album Circles and Squares, I turned inward and posed the following question:
You know those things in life that just click with you upon a first gaze or as they first come within earshot, those things that are more than just things, that are tangible signs that your life has been changed if only a little bit, or perhaps a lot, and perhaps you’re not the same as you were before and you know in your heart of hearts that things are going to be different from now on?
For those of a certain age, or really, any age at all, those moments that speak to what make us who we are, that speak to who we’ve become because something has changed the way we look at things, are hard to quantify, but we try to take them at their word as they announce themselves as part of us and define how we are affected by this, that, and the other thing.
The thing is, hearing music as one of the things that defines us is easy for those for whom a sly key change, or a simple and direct melody played out against a complicated chord structure, or the introduction of a square instrumental peg into a round hole is an exciting event. And, depending on the song, there could be one or two or even more events that work in concert to make us smile or cry or define our emotions in a new and invigorating way.
There are only so many notes and keys and tempos to work with, so if you’re a songwriter who is also a performer, and as a performer, you play the lion’s share of the instruments that paint your musical picture, and you come up with a song that makes a listener smile or laugh or even cry, you’ve done something special, something truly extraordinary, painting with the tools in your toolbox in your own quite special way.
Which is exactly what Seth Swirsky has done. He began writing songs to order, back in the day, for a variety of performers. He wrote books about baseball, and he collected baseballs, so many of which are classified as rare. And, more importantly, he started writing and performing his own music. This latest batch of songs that speak the truth about his life and ours too quite simply towers over just about everything he has done before. It will be tough to beat after the dust has settled on this monumental album, Circles and Squares, releasing on August 19.
Proving that a creative, heartfelt approach to making music will yield magic almost every time, Swirsky has crafted a collection of songs that draws on all of his strengths, and perhaps incorporates a couple of new ones. Moreover, these songs reveal the truth about all of our lives, right from the first track, “Shine,” his statement of purpose, the one that sets the stage for what comes next. The song’s melodious mix of Beach Boys, Free Design, and Burt Bacharach touchstones; gorgeous harmony stacks, with voices sitting on top of and passing around and through each other, and clever sectioning of ideas that also fit together, work as one.
“Shine” slides effortlessly into “Circles and Squares/Go,” initially a sprightly pop confection that ever so slightly incorporates a hint of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back” and, halfway through, turns into an introspective plea to move on and change one’s approach to life. A mix of Beatles Rubber Soul and 1970s soft-pop atmosphere, “Old Letter” carries that idea further, singing a song about holding on to memories in the face of trying to move forward into happiness. “Let’s Move to Spain,” adopting an early rock ‘n’ roll groove (think “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”), concerns itself with shedding one’s memories, leaving material possessions behind, and transplanting the physical form to a place where the only things that are real are the feelings between one another.
Could there be anything more real…a bigger truth? Can we live with our gaze placed firmly on the little things in life, on minimizing what we interact with on a daily basis? It probably depends on how many of those little things are in play. In the Byrdsian popper “Table,” the table is crowded and needs a simplifying of its space. And in the lovely confessional and autobiographical “I Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You),” the narrator allows that life means nothing at all without the proverbial “one”: “I’ve got some baseballs/That are pretty rare/Got a swimming pool/And a fast car/But I don’t care/’Cause I don’t have anything if I don’t have you…I’ve got gold records/Hanging on my wall/But without your love/Baby you can have ’em all…”
Which is not to say that the music on Circles and Squares matches Swirsky’s lyrical introspection note for note; indeed, the music is generally pretty and sweet and full of joy and played almost exclusively by Swirsky himself; against this base, the author’s words are made to shine. So these 16 songs, the best that their author has brought together–better than the groups of songs on his debut, Instant Pleasure, and his second album, Watercolor Day, which is really saying something–shine too. They shine brightly and provide a beacon for emotional truth.
In this album’s opening statement of purpose, “Shine,” Swirsky’s celebration of melody and, especially, harmony, of happiness and joy and how it can and should be, shows what this kind of talent can mold out of what wasn’t there before; imagine sitting down at your table with a blank slate in front of you and summoning the courage to translate your ideas into something as beautiful as this.
That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about crafting beauty and working through one’s emotions to come out healed on the other side. These 16 songs, circles and squares one and all, are the latest expression of craft brought forth by one of pop music’s most important artists. These are the things that matter, and in Seth Swirsky’s hands, they sing.
Now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio: “Shine,” “Circles and Squares/Go,” “Old Letter,” “Far Away,” “Trying to Keep It Simple,” “Belong,” “Sonic Ferris Wheel,” “Let’s Move to Spain,” “Table,” and “Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You).”
When and Where to Get It: Circles and Squares releases on August 19 at seth.com and retailers such as Kool Kat Musik, Amazon and iTunes.