SWANS – The Seer

There are a couple of clear messages in Michael Gira’s statements regarding The Seer and his ultimate goal with the band that also go hand in hand with the reasons behind their reunion two years ago. If one listens to the hectic, dense delivery of this double album, it’s easy to understand how SWANS is a flame that will never go out and will always strive to move forward, appealing to as many likeminded individuals as possible, sharing the same potential to influence and astonish with its performances. While My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky felt more like a natural successor to Soundtracks for The Blind, The Seer manages to stand on its own, showing traces of earlier works like The Great Annihilator and its brilliant songwriting, all the while developing a style which grew out of their latest live performances, loaded with drained-out riffs and low-key tremolo picking and complemented by all sorts of instruments brought by dozens of guest artists. It’s given the band a new sound that sets it apart from a mere heavier incarnation of the Angels of Light, one of my primary concerns about their reunion album.

But The Seer way feels more accomplished in the same way Soundtracks For The Blind originally was, and a good way to recognise that development is when one hears the many live renditions of ‘I Crawled’ (to me, the most quintessential SWANS song) from Swans Are Dead to the present. Back to the original incarnation (on the Young God EP) with its nihilistic, cathartic heaviness until the version included in the demo album preceding The Seer, We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head (which follows the very first version on record of the title song of this album), there has been a refinement of that feeling of release to a joyful, ecstatic delivery, while retaining its original presence. It’s difficult not to sense this change of tone when every reinterpretation is loaded with unexpected, off-key elements, such as the harmonica and the chirping clarinet, enriching the experience. Despite clocking at almost two hours long and having at least three songs beyond the 15-minute mark (the title track being the longest at 32 minutes), it seems way shorter than it actually is, which, to me, is a direct result of the masterful production. The acoustic demo songs included in We Rose From Your Bed… didn’t prepare us for this, which shows the new heights the band has reached by building up basic guitar pieces into the complex arrangements we find here.

The vocal contributions to this album shouldn’t be neglected, especially not the one present in ‘Song For A Warrior’, from none other than Jarboe*, contributing to the band after so many years, in a song not too unlike her melancholic, brooding solo work during the band’s prime. I consider this one of the fans’ most anticipated moments for the band’s new incarnation, since Jarboe’s vocals were a reminder of the vulnerable side of SWANS amid the violence and catharsis. And with that said, I consider this side of the album (the second CD) to be the closest to their earlier era, combined with the most daring efforts the current line-up is capable of, particularly with songs like ‘Avatar’ and ‘A Piece of The Sky’. On the other hand, the first CD seems to follow some of the cues established by more recent work. There’s not enough praise I could give to the way the bells and frantic percussion-work enhance the last handful of songs, like in ‘The Apostate’ (the closing song), which builds up to an almost never-ending, overbearing climax.

Michael Gira was right. Ultimately the songs in this album feel unfinished, and it’s simply because it’s impossible to contain so much energy within such a small frame. The Seer is untameable and a sign of a band whose output will never fade away. The album will be available for sale through Young God Records’ store on August 28, and will include an exclusive live DVD.

*Correction: As some have pointed out, according to the full credit listing, the vocals in ‘Song For A Warrior’ actually belong to Karen O. Jarboe only performs backing vocals in ‘A Piece of The Sky’ and ‘The Seer Returns’. I apologize for the confusion.

3 Comments

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  • Reply August 11, 2012

    MindBodyLightSound

    in what possible way is My Father a “natural successor” to Soundtracks? SFB is a sprawling collection of sound fragments mixed in with a few songs featuring Gira in his full-on, keyboard-driven Wagnerian phase (ie: super long, slow songs that build into crescendos of beauty), and a few of Jarboe in her scariest witch-punk incarnation. My Father is a concise country-metal-nowave hybrid that sounds like a Angels of Light covering Body-To-Body-Job-To-Job. There are probably no two more dissimilar albums in the entire SWANS discography. Truly, Filth and Burning World have more in common.

    • Reply August 11, 2012

      Daniel

      Using the 2CD version of “My Father…” as a standpoint (w/ “Look At Me Go”), I’d say they’re more similar than you might realize. But even without it I’m inclined to disagree: while the “Angels of Light” sound is very prominent in “My Father…” (as it’s to be expected) and SFTB is very famous for its sound collage and spoken word sections, it also has a lot of elements in common with their previous albums, and precisely the second half of “My Father…” (and songs like ‘You Fucking People Make Me Sick’) remind me a lot of ‘Hypogirl’, ‘I See Them Lined Up’ and ‘Live Through Me’, from the top of my head. I’m sure there are others (haven’t revisited it in a while), but the point I’m trying to get across is that SFTB is as much as a collection of sound collages (a la Body Lovers/Haters) as a no-wave/industrial album, and SWANS is a band whose style has remained somewhat consistent through the years, despite the obvious differences between their earliest and their current era.

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