Saturday, January 12, 2013

embarrassing oversight: swans- 'the seer'

Something about this record had been calling to me since it came out. I’d always heard about Swans for much of my music-listening life and just never quite gotten around to them. The first instance I can remember was in 1998—an attractive gothy waitress at an IHOP saw the my bloody valentine T-shirt I was wearing and told me to check out Swans. Reading Sonic Youth’s biography a few years later there were a few strong cases for checking them out as well—I had no idea their first tour had been with Swans. Several more times over the next ten or so years they popped up time and time again—a club owner in Ft. Wayne, Indiana played the Angels of Light CD for my band after a show, we were compared to them in a review of our weakest EP unfavorably. When ‘The Seer’ was released last year I kept seeing it and I kept thinking, ‘maybe I should get this—it’s been getting a rapturous response.’ I finally clicked on a few video links in a friend’s year-end list and was promptly blown away by what I heard. I’ve found myself scolding myself for not enduring the misery of the Metro for a third time last year to catch their undoubtedly intense live show. Judging from the patterns of their renewed activity they won’t be back for at least another two years.

I would normally wait until the end of this year to admit this oversight, but after living with this amazing record for the last two weeks I simply can’t bear to not admit my inexcusable ignorance for any longer. This record would’ve easily placed in my top ten. I’m guessing it would’ve bumped everything underneath the newest Godspeed record (which this beautiful, cathartic, transcendent beast of an album effortlessly outshines). What I find most impressive is how much intensity and raw ferocity has been captured so clearly on tape here. Pummeling is difficult to effectively translate through the filter of the recording process. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve pumped into getting my own brutal sounds to cut through a mix effectively—it sounds easy enough in concept, but when you actually try to get it done it can be daunting for reasons that you couldn’t have possibly imagined when you started.

In a lot of ways this record reminds me of Godspeed as the extended multi-movement tracks are a good parallel. Not only are these tracks even longer, but they are even more effective and with even more drone and repetition. It’s lack of clearly classifiable genre only adds to this—it’s the sound of a band with a million imitators effortlessly outshining them every time. This album features bagpipe noise drones, menacing use of orchestral bells and dulcimer and a healthy dose of ‘I don’t know what the fuck that is’ type of sounds. There’s also a decent amount of heavy metal brutality layered in there where necessary. Somehow all of these incredibly disparate elements are all tied together through the terrifying clarity of Michael Gira’s overarching vision. It’s about time I took notice of this band. My prediction is that I’ll spend a generous amount of the new year gathering the many pieces of their back catalogue.

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