On Cud, Ben Swift plays acoustic guitar with a high energy, nimble-fingered, gritty style that puts him a ballpark with contemporary folk-rock experimenters like Peter Mulvey and Jim Infantino. He also mounts a fierce electric guitar attack, playing funky riffs and laying on sonic distortion with abandon. Scott Kessell matches his creative intensity with inventive percussion and drum performances, and Dan Fox rounds out the band's folk-influenced modern rock sound with bass guitar and numerous Ed Harcourt-esque trumpet solos. Swift's aggressive hooks are consistently engaging, particularly on the hard-rocking standout numbers "House of Fire" and "Flow Downstream." That's a pretty wicked combination of elements, so it's a little surprising that the album never quite gels into the heart-stopping, attention-seizing masterpiece that the band's talent seems to promise. It may be that Swift's efforts as a producer -- undoubtedly undertaken with limited resources -- are at fault. His raspy and sometimes unnecessarily affected vocals blend blandly into a surprisingly two-dimensional mix that somehow manages to obscure the eclectic instrumentation and often renders his (respectable and unremarkable) lyrics indecipherable. The record needs a crisper contrast between the organic acoustic musicianship and powerhouse electric energy. As it stands, it requires careful attention just to tell the two apart. It is unfortunate that Swift and his bandmates parted company after Cud. This is a promising but under-realized debut that calls out for a second try.