With his Krautrock-inspired alter ego Instruments of Science and Technology, Richard Swift has proven that his skills as a musician go far beyond his ability to manufacture pop from the mold of 1970s AM radio. In fact, Swift is proving himself to be quite an astute historian of music. If we learned anything from Music from the Films of R/Swift, it’s how Swift re-imagines the genres in which he is immersed. His previous works have always shined the spotlight on forgotten sounds, as he casually updated the production and tweaked the melodies.
This strategy persists throughout Onasis I & II. A tribute to the garage- and surf-rock that ruled the beaches and ’burbs of the ’50s, Onasis I & II also finds Swift toying with the lost art of rock in its simplest form. Don’t mistake this as an interpretation of the syndicated radio show “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” -- although, to be fair, there may not be an audience willing to give Onasis I & II a shot if not for the work of Steven Van Zandt’s resurrection project.
Yet this double EP isn’t just Swift exploring another neglected genre to educate the indie crowd, nor is it an attempt to keep garage rock rooted in the past. Onasis I is the refresher of rock’s humble beginnings. Rabbit punches of distorted R&B envelope “Greaseball Blues,” transforming the organic blues track into a quick explosion of frenzied solos and slicked hair. Zydeco-inspired “Du(M)B I” is built on a distant Wurlitzer and island beats before breaking down into a demonstration of power-drumming. Album opener “Knee-High Boogie Blues” serves as the rudimentary standard by demonstrating that no matter how simple the riff, it’s the good time found inside the classics that fuels the creativity and exploration of modern music.
It isn’t until the second disc, however, that Swift begins to leave the old behind for more modern interpretations of the rules of garage rock. “Dutch” finds Swift pounding out country ragtime amidst a backbeat built on garage rock’s bluesy rhythms. Nothing compares to album-stopper “JLH.” A ghostly tribute to John Lee Hooker, the track is primordial -- “JLH” is from the beginning of time. Swift crawls through the muck of blues to unearth a fossil so decrepit and mangled, it’s unrecognizable. He digs deep to discover a gravelly voice to vanquish the dark closing in around him.
Onasis I & II serves its purpose well: to entertain, educate, and enlighten. Swift has cemented his legacy as music’s proud historian. It makes no difference if he’s inspired by Tin Pan Alley or the back alley; he is able to craft songs that speak to everyone beyond aesthetic pleasure. As you listen to Onasis I & II, it begins to dawn on you that this is more than just music: this is a piece of everyone’s history. Garage rock was more than just a good time. It was about rebellion. Swift has recaptured that reckless abandon at the perfect moment in living history. Which brings us to Onasis I & II’s ultimate lesson: history repeats itself.