Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Swans - the Seer
O.k I have some new readers, who may or may not be aware that Swans are my favorite band. With that being the case, I'm not one to but my heroes on a pedestal for them to shit on, in fact it means with my higher expectations I listen with even more scrutiny. I have been listening to Swans for almost 20 years so those expectations are high.
What Micheal Gira and friends have created in their latest release the seer is a sprawling two hour double album that feels like it continues where "White Light at the Mouth of Infinity" left off, the beautiful dissonance is in perfect balance where on the "My father will guide me up a rope to the sky" album, it felt sweatier and muskier like lumberjacks on acid. Sonic and intense but not as melodically nuances as the seer. Both albums do the Swans legacy proud.
A double album with a truck load of guest artists making this sonic slab. Among the part guest are Karen O, as well as members of Low, the Akron Family and Big Blood. The usual suspects on board Norman Westerberg and Thor Harris , along with the return of Jarboe who lends her voice to a couple of songs, so any hopes on a full scale reunion with her I'm keeping on simmer.
the first strains of hypnotically chiming guitar of "Lunacy" sends you down the rabbit hole of this opus. The sense of familiarity coupled with new sounds, most notably on lunacy a dark melodic tinge like pre radio pink Floyd. It might just be my point of reference but the progressive rock shading doesn't stop their as the syncopation in mother of the world reminds me of king crimson. Swans have always defied labels this album is no exception. As a whole it feel heavier than most of their post children of god catalogue, and would serve as a good gateway drug for any metal head. The bass attacks on mother of the world in a very metallic manner. This album does a excellent job of balancing its drive with the more introspective moments of strummed guitar, often occurring in the span of one song.
The guest performances for the most are understated,The vocals of Low's Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are layered around Gira in an eerie choir like swell. Karen O steps out of character for more of an Americana approach on " song for a warrior " . Her vocals are phrased closer to some one like Aimee Mann than a real country artist. This song lives up to Gira's claim he wrote them all on an acoustic first.
Jarboe first appears here on the seers return, which is slinky an oddly upbeat as the rubbery bass line propels it. Her vocals are low in the mix shadow Gira's Tom Waitish swagger and when they creep out to the forefront are more of a rhythmic accent. On the nineteen minute A piece of the sky, she only adds some oohs faintly in the back ground and mixed in with the Akron Family,so she is dramatically underused, which is a shame as she cold have added a more interesting ambiance to the part Karen O sang.
Among the other instruments added to the shining collage of ambient noise the songs here have a tendency to coagulate from are mandolin, clarinet,bag pipes, horns, cello, violin,Accordion and bassoon. They never give the "yellow submarine" parade feel to the proceeding but work at sonic textures, what doing acid at band camp might have sounded like.
The noisier passages of ambiance return, almost picking up where songs for the blind left off. At the beginning of the title track they sound like an orchestra tuning their instruments before it ebbs into the pulse of percussion. All this post rock black metal bands who want to play around with Godspeed you black emperor elements, need to use this albums as their text book, as Godspeed ... Owes their careers to Swans. when the title track builds into a cacophonous flurry it which it constricts into a pound harder than any metal album in recent memory.
The tribal percussion leading into the song "avatar" is classic Swans hypnosis, has a very primal drive smoothed over by Gira's cynical croon. In a similar vein to "better than you" but a more transcendent in delivery and the last minute has almost aback metal feel but with out blast beats. The closer "apostate" feels almost post apocalyptic with the feed back creating a siren like effect, minimal and dark the bubbling tremolo of bass lurking beneath floats like a leviathan under the Ambiant noise until they lurch into the song at the four minute mark. Chris pravdica of Gunga Din abilities as a bassist add a lot to this album he works well with the band blending groove with abrasion.
Micheal Gira's vocals sound great , the are more relaxed and don't have the rough hewn grit of " our father.." , maybe it took that record for him to get his voice back to where it wanted to be. The resonance in the lower registers of his baritone is breath taking and has me hoping their set in October will be more conducive for him display this live. The vocals use a lot of droning chants to accent
Gira claims these songs are unfinished, which I guess it depends on if your are going for a more philosophical approach of is any preformed art finished of it's the live performance the further explorations of it. As Gira says...
" now they await further cannibalism and force-feeding as we prepare to perform some of them live, at which point they'll mutate further, endlessly, or perhaps be discarded for a while."
I do recall hearing a variation of the Song the seer when they came through last time, not sure if they really played this 30 minute version, but to the studio versions credit it will remain the only thirty minute song on my iPod , I'm a slave to shuffle these days but it's good to have the album in its entirety as it will work best to fall day when I'm working at home. The only song I don't foresee making the cut is " 93 avenue b blues" which is free jazz like noise John Zorn would be proud of , do appreciate the harshness of it's climax I'm sure Litugury's Hunter Hendrix will find it very inspiring and it's only five minutes of chaotic atmosphere so not too taxing.
My only complaint is it could use more Jarboe , but I liked the last album and she is not even on it,so I will take what I can get . Overall this album exceeded my expectations and is everything I could want Swans album to be, the Karen O song has even grown on me so this album gets a ten, as I keep listening to it and it diminishes my desire to listen to other music which seems trite in comparison.