The soil that The Dirty Pulse has grown from is fertile and clean. The harvest is 12 well-polished songs that sway effortlessly in the breeze. This ninth release from indie musician Ember Swift (and band) is warm and optimistic, proving to be the group’s most accessible album yet.
“This is a celebrate life album,” Swift says, which is likely why spinning this disc on repeat has been easy. “The real pulse of life comes from the earth,” she adds, making me think that Swift’s move from big, bad TO to the quiet countryside has been treating her well.
The Dirty Pulse is a reminder that folk still flirts well with funk, jazz and reggae. This eclectic mix of tunes opens with the reggae/pop punch of “No Regrets,” followed by the sexy/funky bass-anchored “Affluence Disease,” right into the triumphant anthem “Some Fine Day.” When asked about the motivation for this track, Swift says that both she and longtime band member and multi-instrumentalist Lyndell Montgomery “consciously decided that we needed to write something that reignited hope and brought back the idea that we, as people, can make a difference — even when the government doesn’t reflect us.”
The upbeat songs like “No Regrets” and “Some Fine Day” stand out, while the slowed-down tracks like “Reinforced Concrete” with its delicate muted trumpet, take time to nudge onto your radar. With its easy-to-catch beats, “Pulse” excites a desire to dance, yet remains gentle and mellow.
When I ask Swift about the restraint on this album, she credits the involvement of veteran producer Graham Stairs (Martha And The Muffins, National Velvet; now with True North).
“He was an excellent producer for us. He is really good at finding the strengths and the weaknesses in the songs. He made excellent suggestions and helped us to flesh out the arrangements, making the songs cleaner and more concise. Having someone else onboard in the producer’s seat was a really refreshing change for me.”
Still released on her own label, the new album represents a shift. “This is the first time in my musical journey that I have played electric guitar on the record. I was influenced by rock and pop more on this record than ever before.”
While electric guitar shifts the sound, fans will also notice bandmate and collaborator Montgomery is mostly slapping her bass; only on one song, the darker, haunting “Ease,” does Lyndell play her trademark violin.
What remains familiar are Swift’s political lyrics.
“This record isn’t interested in sugarcoating the realities of our current times; this is a body of work interested in an honest assessment. Sometimes it’s a ‘dirty truth,’ but it’s real.”
But even while confronting challenging issues like urban apathy or the environmental and cultural effects of the mining industry, Swift finds a way to keep the sound hopeful. I can’t help but envision an audience of summertime folk-festival goers pleased with the results.
While Swift and her band always provide a captivating stage show, The Dirty Pulse is a solid studio recording — a listenable CD that will hold its own even if you have never seen them live.