Release Date: Aug 28, 2012
Record label: Young God Records
Genre(s): Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise-Rock
To delve into the work of Michael Gira is to accept the man’s excesses as well as his triumphs. Musically speaking, the impresario of No Wave’s longest living entity, Swans, Gira has cultivated a grand and amorphous canon that boasts varying degrees of aural scarification, exercises in avant-propulsive throb and assault and, as of 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, culturally informed compositions bred from his attachment to lawlessly conceived shock and awe. As Swans toured for My Father in 2010 and 2011, songs began to form from the recesses of their traveling brains during rehearsals and performances, the band toying structurally in front of audiences until final versions were recorded.
It’s a beautiful thing to witness a band rising from its own ashes. In a time when washed-up musicians can command an absurd paycheck for going through the motions of a reunion tour, Swans’ return feels like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky. Instead of reforming for All Tomorrow’s Parties to play Children of God and fading back into the abyss, Swans are marching into the future with a limit-transcending force scarcely matched by any band currently plateauing into its prime.
Michael Gira: '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…' Swans are a band that attracts superlatives. I’m not going to argue for Swans as the best, or the heaviest, the loudest, or the most evil band in the world (as has been done), but I am offering them up as the one band that makes the best case for extreme music as a profound experience, and one that transcends mimesis or expression.
Born in the New York post-punk squalor that mothered pals Sonic Youth, Swans make their grandest statement yet for their 30th birthday. There are muses old (vocalist Jarboe) and new (Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, singing the haunted folk prayer "Song for a Warrior"). But guitar noise is leader Michael Gira's reigning mistress: See the roaring 32-minute title track – a season in hell, and then some.
SwansThe Seer[Young God; 2012]By David Wolfson; August 29, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetNot many albums get the kind of progressive documentation that The Seer received prior to its release. There was a live album earlier this year (We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head) that featured almost an hour’s worth of material that ended up on The Seer. There were acoustic demo bonus tracks on We Rose for songs that would end up on The Seer.
Swans are a band that conjure primal forms of power: thunder and lightning, fire and brimstone, master over slave, predator over prey. Their earliest albums came out in the wake of New York's no wave scene, a loose, radical contest to see who could make rock'n'roll sound as ugly as possible while still retaining the rhythms and forms that made it rock'n'roll. Swans, not central to the scene, countered with the possibility of wiping out rock altogether.
Michael Gira has made some pretty bold claims in the lead up to The Seer's release, the 12th album to manifest itself under the Swans banner, and the second since the dormant band's reactivation in 2010. One of which is that the album is unfinished. Fair enough: each of the 11 songs here lend themselves to all sorts of expansions and contractions, things Gira and company have been doing plenty of during their intensely physical live performances over the past couple of years.
Michael Gira claims that Swans' 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." This is not hyperbole. Two years after My Father Will Lead Me Up to a Rope to the Sky, The Seer is the most sprawling, ambitious, thoughtfully conceived and tightly performed recording in the band's catalog -- also not hyperbole -- over two discs, two hours, and 11 tracks. And it is not an endurance test, but an argument for compulsive listening.
The bulk of the 32 minute title track on The Seer is two chords, one tritone apart from each other, played over and over again. The interval – once thought to actually be demonic – heaves back and forth, collapsing and recollecting like throwing a two-ton burlap sack of noise. Instead of crescendoing to some sweeping catharsis, the two chords remain steady and resolute, never resolving.
SWANS play Lee’s Palace October 25. See listing. Rating: NNNN Swans' 12th album is the most terrifying volley yet from one of the most brutal bands on the planet. They make death metal seem like the soundtrack to a Disney film and yet somehow sidestep most of the expected methods of exploring evil in music.
“Don’t rule God out of the equation just yet,” Michael Gira told Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts when the pair talked about the creative process in a recent interview. The words may as well be a manifesto for Swans, Gira’s soul-eating New York noise outfit of no little renown, reactivated in 2010 after 13 years of limbo. Described by its author as the culmination of his life’s work, this album’s two-hour stretch may seem offputtingly dense at first, but give them time, and Swans – with a little help from Karen O, who appears on the hushed ‘Song For A Warrior’ – will take you to a place that is beyond good and evil.
Sprawling across two discs, comprising 11 tracks and two hours, Swans’ The Seer has a pretty alien configuration for an album, with songs ranging from one to 32 minutes in length. Parsing the reasoning behind the differences between the discs or the placement of the track breaks is probably pointless, but the confusion caused by such a scattershot presentation certainly fits with a concept that’s been the theme of both the album and the band’s entire career: intimidation. Swans’ previous album, their first in 12 years, scrupulously sought to avoid the “reunion” tag, seeking the same kind of baggage-free new beginning that mastermind Michael Gira aimed for with his Angels of Light side project.
Swans' reputation arrives before them: the "loudest" or "heaviest" band in the world, with dark rumours of punishing gigs making audiences vomit. Their second album since reforming in 2010 after a 14-year hiatus won't quite so terrify the faint-hearted, but is certainly a challenge. Two hours long and containing songs lasting 30 minutes, it is loftily described by frontman Michael Gira as "the culmination of every other Swans album".
In music, “lengthy” doesn’t necessarily equal “epic. ” But in the case of The Seer, the 12th studio album from experimental post-punk act Swans, the two terms are basically interchangeable. Michael Gira, the veteran band’s frontman and guiding visionary, told the Quietus this album “took 30 years to make,” and based on the album’s jaw-dropping length alone (clocking in at just under two full hours), it’s tempting to interpret that quote literally.
Having (temporarily?) retired his Angels of Light band alias and its bleak balladeer mode, Michael Gira is now two albums deep into the bleaker misanthropy of his seminal Swans project. Those of you familiar with "bands" like King Crimson and Godflesh—bands with one ringleader and only the vaguest sense of sonic continuity—can appreciate that Swans is an attitude and should not expect to be pummeled by metallic post-punk herein. Instead, modern Swans borrows the kind of elegiac pocket orchestra melancholy that Angels developed into such a keen grammar, now deployed for the arcane yet humanistic sacred text of his original moniker.
If reunions are about looking back, about rehashing the past, then Michael Gira’s reformation of Swans is no reunion. It’s become clear during their incessant touring, and the band’s last album, 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, that this isn’t the same Swans that clattered and snarled their way through the ‘80s and into the mid-‘90s. Swans is ever pushing forward, and they sound now like an expansive, rattling expansion of Michael Gira’s country-death-blues work in Angels of Light.
A double-album masterpiece from one of the most vital rock bands on the planet. Chris Power 2012 The Seer is a masterpiece to be considered alongside Swans’ best albums: 1984’s brutal Cop, the more nuanced Children of God (1987), the majestic White Light from the Mouth of Infinity (1991), and the sprawling and inspired Soundtracks for the Blind (1996). Following Soundtracks, bandleader Michael Gira called time on the group.
Veterans of avant-garde post-rock, Swans bring 30 years of experimental experience to a dramatic peak with two discs of chaos and beauty. Anchored by three tracks stretching past 19 minutes with only momentary lapses of Western conventionality, The Seer stands as an immense and jarring homage to unpredictability. Clocking over a half-hour, the magnum opus title cut begins with a chorus of legato wailing that fades into a static rattle then rises into a psychedelic Arab groove.
Age is wasted on the old. Seriously. Imagine what our precarious, tough-as-nails generation could achieve if it was provided with the kind of cultural opportunities the post-war baby boomers enjoyed. Imagine if all those young artists, academics, media types, and computer geeks who spend their weeks generating reams of meaningless CV fodder just to get on the career ladder were suddenly told that full employment was going to be a priority for the next Labour government.
I looked over the press info for The Seer and asked myself a question. Do I or don’t I like Swans? It can matter, liking or not liking a band regardless of the quality of their music. Michael Gira, whatever the ideas and conceptions for his resolutely uncompromising band are, obviously doesn’t want to be liked. Retaining the confrontational Punk era stance his contemporaries in Sonic Youth developed beyond in the late 80s, Gira has steadfastly refused to make the kind of concessions to the media and indeed his audience that would have taken his music perhaps not completely into but certainly sufficiently near the mainstream for a wider public to at least become aware of Swans presence.