Review: Seth Swirsky’s “Circles and Squares”

SETH SWIRSKY – CIRCLES AND SQUARES (Self-released)

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Seth Swirsky is one of those multi-faceted renaissance men with talent to spare: he sings with a gentle sweetness, he writes stunningly melodic and pretty tunes and he plays most every instrument with equal facility. Oh, and he’s also an author, a filmmaker, a painter, and a noted collector of baseball memorabilia. He’s penned songs that have been recorded by the likes of Al Green, Olivia Newton-John and the Four Tops. Dude’s even got his Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, for god’s sake. I imagine coming up with a vaccine to cure the common cold may be next on his agenda. But before I start to sound like I’m writing the Seth Swirsky Wikipedia page or running for president of the Seth Swirsky Fan Club, let’s get to the matter at hand: Swirsky’s sterling new solo record, Circles and Squares.

Circles and Squares is Swirsky’s third solo effort and it’s awash with all the best influences: some chamber pop here, a smattering of early solo McCartney there, a little Beach Boys, and more than a little Harry Nilsson. It’s an aural melting pot that, while obviously informed by the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s, certainly doesn’t come off as slavishly imitative in any way, shape or form. Quite simply, these are 16 impeccable pop songs that will linger in your head long after the music’s over.

An easy comparison of the overall vibe on Circles and Squares would be Paul McCartney’s 1970’s solo debut. Like McCartney, Swirsky’s themes lean towards “home, family, love.” The “love” portion of the equation is prevalent in tunes such as the mellow “Let’s Get Married” (strong Nilsson influence here), “I Loved Last Night” (which sounds not unlike a standard from the ’40s), the lighthearted, early rock ‘n’ roll-type sound of “Let’s Move to Spain” and the absolutely gorgeous piano ballad, “With Her Now.” The fact that Swirsky sings and plays nearly everything on the record further strengthens the McCartney comparison.

The sweet “I Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You)” is one of the prime cuts on Circles and Squares. Over a simple and lovely (and simply lovely) melody, Swirsky notes that his love means more to him than all his prized possessions: “some baseballs that are pretty rare…gold records hanging on my wall…Atlas Shrugged in a first printing.” The tune builds in intensity both vocally and instrumentally towards the close and features some perfectly placed orchestration.

The blissful “Shine” finds Swirsky channeling his inner Brian Wilson with a perfect, Pet Sounds-like ditty; “Trying to Keep it Simple” is a pep talk set to music that features an insidiously catchy chorus (“I’m trying to keep it simple/I don’t have to be a Beatle/in order to be happy/I just need someone to love me”); “The Simplest Way” is another silly love song (what’s wrong with that, I’d like to know), with a guitar figure slightly reminiscent of the main riff from “Dear Prudence”; and “Table” is a laundry list of items (an old Kinks CD, a yellow Sharpie, a cup of coffee, a digital camera) that can be found on Swirsky’s messy workspace, set to a Rickenbacker-fueled melody that recalls “When You Walk in the Room.”

Another Nilsson-ish number is the upbeat “Circles and Squares/Go,” while “Far Away” is one of those perfect little pop songs that sounds like you’ve heard it somewhere before. (In this case, you may have: the tune made its first appearance on the compilation CD that accompanied my 2007 book, Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide.) The disc closes with “I Think of Her,” which sounds like it could have been a smash for Simon & Garfunkel back in the day. Sure to be a strong contender for many a year-end top 10, Circles and Squares is nothing short of a soft poppin’ tour-de-force that’s not to be missed. Visit www.seth.com for more info.
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