Friday, 26 October 2012

Swans - The Seer Review

Swans - The Seer [Post-Punk / Experimental Rock]

IMMENSE. This is the best way to sum up the album: IMMENSE. Boasting a solid two hours, with so much going on at a microscopic and macroscopic level. The album was definitely a headache, digesting it was one thing, picking up things about it to analyze is even harder. But as a critic, an album this huge in scope is like a dream come true, for once, an album has taken over a month of critical listening and still presents itself as bold, disturbing, futuristic and epic at the same time.

The album starts off with 'Lunacy', a track that has such powerful dynamics as it gains momentum over its 4 minutes before collapsing to a melancholic closure with the words "Your childhood is over-" over and over again. It's precise, and creates a sense of doom, almost meditative (as the entire album is) without sounding repetitive, with Alan Sparhawk & Mimi Parker providing a nice harmony with band leader Michael Gira. It is a strong track, because not only is it great to listen to on its own, it sets the pace of the album and serves excellently well as an album opener, introducing everything you can expect from the album without wearing you out, the weirdness, the dynamic song variations within the same song, the minimalist lyrics and the unorthodox vocals, it is all there.

'Mother Of The World' is the second song and already throws at you another oddball, with its opening polyrhythmic drum and guitars creating some weird, tense time signatures while Michael Gira just... breathes to the rhythm? The weird pattern slowly accumulates atmospheric drones and added ghost notes as the bass comes in to complicate things more before weird atonal Red Indian vocals come in. Organ chimes add that haunting touch, light but never overpowering and doing just what it should. This song is haunting in a way I cannot explain, perhaps it's how everything seems to work in perfect harmony even in its apparent friction with the next instrument. The vocals are pushed to the front but are still processed, sounding near but distant, like you are divided by a veil that allows you to observe what is happening but never allowing you to become engulfed in the music, but overwhelmed just by looking in it. Michael Gira seems to take this point of view on his music, singing with self-awareness and pity but at the same time trying to seem like he doesn't care, and the combination of this with the beautiful dulcimer, sitar and distant flamenco guitars at the end creates a beautifully complex soundscape where each instrument contributes to the bigger picture.

'The Wolf' is a fantastic bridge between the preceding and succeeding song, minimalist in delivery but effectively bringing in field noise halfway to signal the closure of 'Mother Of The World' and the beginning of the albums first epic track, the 32 minute long title track, which opens with a burst of bagpipes and a wild clarinet solo and the dulcimer plucking away furiously. The transitions are so smooth you will not be able to tell if it's another song or still the same song, and here the use of drone and doom atmospheres make itself aurally discernible. The rhythms may seem repetitive to the impatient listener, but they are the key to the smooth transitions, seamlessly blending or fading into the next musical segue, which are aplenty in this title track alone. As always, the lyrics are minimal as Michael Gira simply chants "I see it all I see it all-" as the music picks up, before the instruments climax close to the mid end of the song, but strangely do not sound overwhelming, as they do cancelling each other's instruments out, which is novel songwriting right there. In a way, the songs sound like they are killing themselves and always leave the listener baffled at true intentions of the song.

Catharsis is definitely the main motif of the album, as evident in the band's love for psychedelia in their earlier records in the 80s, but here, it seems to become a powerful theme, and more effective. This album proves to be more than music, more like an experience. It is epic in scope, and it tires you out crazy, and the featured artistes such as Karen O and Jarboe are succinct and precise, never overstaying their welcome and acting as if they are definitely meant to be included in the music, unlike a lot of the stars you see today who collaborate merely for more attention from both party's fans.

The philosophical and abstract intentions of this album. Tension plays its part very well in the dramatic and uneven, forced notes and beats (look at the chilling '93 Ave. B Blues', it is sonic devastation, conjuring dark images that are delightfully vague and personal, it is the kind of sound I would envision making itself comfortable in a gory body-horror film). Karen O's soothing vocals are almost a sigh of relief, a beautiful, euphoric song in 'Song For A Warrior', almost as if to assuage the listener from the wounds inflicted from the dissonant cacophony of the first half of the album, and as said, flows well into the relatively upbeat 'Avatar' or the rest of the album actually. The final two epics, 'A Piece Of The Sky' and 'The Apostate' feature relatively... "happy" beats but are jut as complicated as the first half of songs, with bell chimes and gang vocals swarming in and out and polyrhythms never letting up even towards the end.

I must now revise the ratings I have given to previous albums, because for the first time in 2012, there is an album that definitely worthy of the perfect rating and fit to be deemed a classic. This album will no doubt be creating lots of polarizing views, and it's eliciting of influences from all the negative genres of music: psychedelia, doom metal, noise, experimental jazz and tribal, is sure to scare people if the sheer size and length doesn't, but for those who are open-minded and willing to crack this album, this is pure gold.

★★★★★ Excellent - Undisputed classic for critical listening
✔ Satthy's Recommended Choice

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