Swans - The Seer - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Swans - The Seer

by Daryl Worthington Rating:9 Release Date:2012-08-27

Among the glut of bands reforming over the last few years, Swans have been unique in that their return has been built on the release of new material. The band's frontman and driving force Michael Gira has never really been away, releasing and performing music as a solo artist and with Angels of Light, writing a collection of short stories, and founding and curating the Young Gods record label (home of acts such as James Blackshaw and Devandra Barnhart).

The return of Swans was announced with 2010's My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, and a series of awe inspiring live shows with a band made up of new and old collaborators. New album The Seer seems like a natural successor to My Father… However, whereas that album was defined by a new immediacy and directness to Swans work, this release exhibits a much more abstracted approach. The visceral power and industrial intensity of early Swans albums is still present, as well as hints of the deranged blues of Gira's solo work combined with new explorations into sound experiments, noise and musique concrete, showing Swans roots in the New York no-wave scene of the early 80s. The key difference with previous releases is that these ideas are often mixed into the same song.

Album opener 'Lunacy' is a perfect example. Beginning with unrelenting guitar stabs, more sounds are added into the mix, swirling around the jagged guitar. It is difficult to pick out what the instruments are. An unnerving group chant of 'lunacy' begins - perfectly capturing the maelstrom of the instrumentation. However, before you know it four or five minutes of this chaos have passed, and we're left with an acoustic guitar strum, and a group chant of "Your childhood is over". Suddenly it feels like you've stumbled across a campfire sing-along.

Fourth track 'The Seer' is sure to divide opinion. At 32 minutes in length, it's almost like an album within an album. The track begins with a cacophonous wall of sound. Instruments sound like they're fighting with each other. The piece jumps through periods of processed drums, several times descending into pure head-banging riff territory, and somewhere in the middle a strange mouth-organ and lap-steel duet happens. At over 30 minutes, the piece will surely be too much for some listeners, and there is a feeling almost that it disrupts the flow of the album, but as a demonstration of the sheer power and versatility of this incarnation of Swans, it's tremendous.

The album also showcases shorter, almost folkier numbers; for instance, 'Song for a Warrior', sung by Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, one of several collaborators on the album including Akron/Family and Low. Built around acoustic guitar strums and lap-steel, it is comparatively calm, like a distorted take on American folk music. The closing line of "Destroy, then begin again" in many ways encapsulates the album as a whole. At times Swans sound like a wrecking ball, but underneath there is something optimistic, a reason for the chaos.

Much of the press in the build up to this album has spoken of it being a culmination of Gira's work. However, it's perhaps better to view it as another step in the evolution. At around two hours in length, and with several songs lasting 20 minutes and upwards, it's a challenging listen. Gira's work has always been characterised by his outsider comprehension of the world, not so much going against trends and fashions as side-stepping any interaction with them at all. The Seer is a thrilling testament to this and one worthy of your time.

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