Thursday, 30 August 2012

Swans - The Seer added to 2012 Recommended Albums

Since there have been a huge number of noteworthy albums released in the last couple of weeks for your average indie blogger (at a rate that looks set to continue), it has become increasingly tough to seperate the great from the good, to predict what records will remain and be returned to long after the dust has settled. This simply isn't the case with The Seer, the second Swans album after bandleader Michael Gira resurrected the moniker in 2009. It seems as if any other review or discussion of The Seer has to include the following quote, and as I believe it to be an important one I'm going to regurgitate that trend. In case you missed it, this is what Gira said of the album in an interview with The Quietus:

"The Seer took 30 years to make. It's the culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I've ever made, been involved in or imagined. But it's unfinished, like the songs themselves. It's one frame in a reel. The frames blur, blend and will eventually fade."
On surface level it isn't difficult to understand just why The Seer stands out. It's a monster, a 2CD/3LP experience that demands two hours of its listeners' misery. Amongst its eleven tracks lie a 32-minute title track and two closing tracks of around 20 minutes each. And not to mention it's by Swans, a group that has spent the best part of the last 30 years destroying people's conceptions of popular music, evolving over the  ages to marry no-wave punk with noise, industrial and post-rock music. But even with these credentials it's something else entirely to produce a two-hour album containing elements that longtime fans are going to be surprised by, and to result in a cohesive statement that deserves to stand next to Gira's towering words.

But it does. One of the album's strongest qualities is that it manages to entertain consistently for that amount of time, albeit entertain a certain type of music listener. There are too many specific moments, instuments and guest musicians to name each one individually, and The Seer is something that needs to be heard to be believed, but likewise there are too many great things going on to neglect a mention. Opener "Lunacy" is a great one. It feels like the doorway into the album's netherworld, with Gira's chant "Your childhood is over" being the signpost pointing the way back for the unadventurous. The first half of the next track "Mother Of The World" is taken up with a two note riff that stutters its way into exhaustion, complete with heavy breathlessness. Of course the majority of the first disc is taken up with "The Seer", which without trying to sell it short (if that's even possible) is most strongly defined by Thor Harris' pummeling drums. "93 Ave. B Blues" builds tension until it breaks into classic Swans cacophony. Even the acoustic ballads on Disc 1 sound twisted; Gira's creaky vocals on "The Wolf" are brought right up close, elongated out of any comfort.

The second disc opens up with a respite, a ballad sung not by Gira but Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeah's fame. "Song For A Warrior" is perfectly placed; functioning as both a welcome and necessary break but also introducing what I consider to be the strongest three tracks on the album. Firstly "Avatar" skips along church bells andd Gira's monasterial chanting, gaining momentum until finaly breaking into one of the best dramatic turns on the album. It's a small shame it doesn't last longer; alas it moves into the crackling fires of "A Piece Of The Sky", nineteen minutes of sheer beauty, like a Pink Floyd album in microcosm, and as an essential part of the album as the final track. "The Apostate" is like the final boss of a video game: challenging, but if you've managed to get this far you'll see it as your reward. Initially slow, brooding; it takes exactly six minutes to turn unapologetic, and eventually seething.

The Seer is clearly a sprawling, cinematographic album, like Can's Tago Mago and Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Lift Yr Skinny Fists... before it, and not for the casual listener to pick up. But it's not so demanding as to drain you, not so repetitive as to be monotonous. It's length and scope may seem to disguise any faults repeated listening may unsurface, yet returning to it several times reveals few. The Seer is a masterpiece for Swans, that genuinely does draw from all phases of Michael Gira's musical career: the sounds of a lush plethora of acoustic instrumentation, with the massive force of the central band unit. In totality the album's hugeness is likeable to the heights Swans stand over the rest of the world's music makers.

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