Swans – The Seer Swans – The Seer

My most recent memory involving Swans was in New York when I went to visit Charles. We were outside drinking in a concrete back yard. Charles was professing his adoration for Swans – quite loudly – at 3 in the morning. He was recounting an album by pounding his feet against the damp concrete. The intensity and tension woven into his story perfectly matches the intensity and tension of the band. Swans is not casually experienced. For more than 30 years this revolving cast of nihilists, led by Michael Gira, has continued to redefine the parameters of music, song, and horrifying expression. Swans is a band that, even in story, can wake the neighbors.

Swans originally died in the mid 90’s only to be resurrected in 2010 with the very excellent My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky. At this rate, Swans will only become more powerful as time progresses. The act originally carved out a large portion of the 1980’s with their work in the field of industrial noise disguised as post punk. It was a classic bait and switch which ripped out the insides of listeners. The band’s 1986 release Holy Money was one of the first albums recommended to me based on my budding interest in industrial rock. Imagine my shock. I believe to this day I am still not ready for that release. All of these anecdotes are attempting to set up the impossibility of Swans and the challenges they propose to their listeners. With each release, Gira treats his audience like adults with already established taste. This is important to remember when encountering the monolithic task known as The Seer.

The Seer is a monumental undertaking. The record, according to Gira, is 30 years of conceptual gestation presented in fragments. To 90% of the population that means nothing but to some (Fine Arts majors) that could mean a lot. Spread over two discs, The Seer is a harrowing odyssey through tracks ranging from 1 minute to 30. Each song is a segment acting as a portion to a larger story which may or may not have an ending. At points, one is subjected to dithering noise and at others melodious harmony. The direction of The Seer mirrors the work of God Speed! You Black Emperor in that tension and crescendos are built over marathon lengths. I think God Speed! may be easier to listen to. One gets many things from The Seer but resolve is not guaranteed.

The Seer brings in multiple collaborators including Karen O, members of Akron/Family as well as longtime Swans contributor Jarboe. The production and conceptual map for the album is massive bordering on the level of ineffective. I have seen many projects collapse under their own grand narratives. The fact that The Seer works is a testament to the skill and craft of Gira and his many years of making music. This is an art record which rivals the amount of detail and reflection of all the art records made in the early 80’s. Swans has done something tremendous here. It is my only hope you can get through it all.

It is true there are sections of The Seer that test the audience’s patience with eternal segues of noise. At moments, there is lingering doubt without any sense of resolve. At times I want to throw my hands up and scream accusations of unmerited pretension. I want pop music and hamburgers. And then it breaks. These very heavy emotions dissipate with fractions of melody and sunshine after days of storms. The most interesting portions of The Seer rests at the bottom of deep wells. “A Piece of the Sky” possesses one of the most enjoyable melodies written by Swans but is preceded by 10 minutes of violin noise. Nothing is sugar-coated. Nothing comes easy. At points I feel I do not have enough time to give on the level that Swans demands. At others, I am thankful there are bands out there that continue to challenge audiences. We need music like this.

There have been so many innovations made in the past 30 years it is surprising to hear a record that frightens and intrigues. The Seer – just within Swans own narrative – is a three-fold feat compared to My Father. I actually do not think I even fully get this record or if “getting” it is a valid goal. What I do know is The Seer is an unforgettable release of 2012 and sounds like Converses stopping wet concrete. Its alright Charles, scream your lungs out. It is what is needed at this moment.

Swans The Seer tracklist:

‘Mother of the World’
‘The Wolf’
‘The Seer’
‘The Seer Returns’
’93 Ave. B Blues’
‘The Daughter Brings the Water’
‘Song for a Warrior’
‘A Piece of the Sky’
‘The Apostate’

Swans - The Seer, reviewed by Kaptain Carbon on 2012-09-12T06:16:22-07:00 rating 4.4 out of 5

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