> Esther Swift 'Expectations of a Lifetime' (Album Review) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Esther Swift ‘Expectations of a Lifetime’ (Album Review)

Multi-hyphenate composer-singer-harpist-arranger Esther Swift came to prominence with her 2021 piece ‘The Call’, a response to performing music during covid restrictions. Performed on Portobello beach, the distanced musicians were conducted by Swift using semaphore.

Expectations of a Lifetime is her debut album, due to be launched with a multimedia performance at Queen’s Hall featuring piper Dave Tunstall, all- female string quartet Vulva Voce, and celebrated Scottish jazz musicians Fergus McCreadie and Patrick Kenny. That line-up should give the listener some idea of what to expect from this ambitious album that spans gentle balladry, heartbreaking political allegory, and a song that could have been what happened if Beyoncé had grown up in Dumbiedykes.

Availble on Bandcamp

That song – ‘Work and Play’ – sees Swift take on those hideous adverts that appeared a few years back encouraging ballet dancers to retrain as coders. ‘I want to live in my body’, she sings, as a four-four beat gives way to a squalling bagpipe solo. ‘Problems to Sharpen the Young I’ is a heart-in- the-mouth story of a family undertaking a perilous crossing, a humanising riposte to those ‘small boats’ the tabloid press love to vilify. Engaging with the issues that fire up the angry Twitter hordes and imbuing them with care, the song is a feminist call for acceptance of ‘yeti women and bison women’, recalling the joyous eccentricity of Björk, puncturing any pomposity with a fierce humour.

Swift’s harp is at the centre of most of this, its swells and rhythmic pizzicatos driving us along, but her skill as an arranger is what sets this apart: propulsive brass throbs, layered choral vocals mingling with the cries of seagulls, the expressive and kinetic piano, the pounding floor toms. The texture of it is as important as the content, woven to surprising depth. It’s fitting, then, that the seven- minute closing track, ‘The Lake of Innisfree’, strips all of that away and leaves us with the core of Swift’s voice, her harp, and the trilling of the birdsong in the background.

Expectations of a Lifetime will be released on Friday 14th June, with a launch gig at Queen’s Hall. Tickets here

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