Swans - Oxygen EP

by Brian Lange. Rating:6 Release Date:2014-11-25

EPs are a strange anomaly. Especially when they include not just one of the singles from the album, but when there are several different versions of it. Thus, EPs can often be slated as something just for the hardcore fans. 

Swans’ Oxygen EP is centred around the track of the same name off the record To Be Kind, released in May of 2014. It features four tracks, all variations of the original track: An edited version of the original, coming in at about half the length as that found on To Be Kind; a live version which sounds very much like the original; an 'early version', which sounds mostly acoustic and is probably a demo version of what would eventually become the album track. The final track is actually labeled 'acoustic' and sounds quite different from the early version, being very slow and drawn out and feeling a bit like filler for purposes of this EP.

The most intriguing track may very well be the early version, which is furthest removed from other versions and is appropriately creepy. The lyrics are completely different from the original track.  Michael Gira’s voice comes in his usual haunting style; you can imagine him playing in a sermon, in a barren wasteland community not unlike Jonestown. 

There's maddening steel-string strumming with sporadic lyrics. About halfway-through, Gira sings to his congregation: “I can see a blue sky/ just up ahead/ but it’s sticky and thick/ and it’s true color…” Suddenly the strumming stops and all is momentarily silent, before the bare voice of Gira casually concludes: “…is red.”

The strumming continues, the parable continues and is deeply engrossing. This presents the question as to why Gira decided to change almost every element of the early version to the lyrically stripped-down version found on To Be Kind. 

Swans fans will appreciate this EP, if nothing else for the early version. Purchase will likely be justified for this track alone, but the other tracks are mostly repetitive. The acoustic track isn't different enough from the original, and leaves something more to be desired. A collection, on the other hand, of early, alternate, and acoustic versions would be a magical item to own indeed.  Perhaps we can hope for this in the future.

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