Review Summary: Two hours of repetitive madness
Swans may be one of many bands that has reformed and released new material after over a decade of inactivity, but Michael Gira has never played by the rules. While other bands are using their second lives to release albums that sound just like the comebacks before them, Swans’ follow-up to 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky goes off in a different direction. The resulting two discs is a two-hour collection of repetitive madness.
The Seer has been hyped as Swans’ most ambitious release that was thirty years in the making (Whatever that means) and the reality might not be too far off. The band plays with a variety of sounds that range from ballads to drawn out drone experimentations and the double album format makes the album look like a mere warm-up in comparison. The gentler tracks and instrumental tone bare some resemblances to My Father… but The Seer has more in common with 1996’s Soundtracks For The Blind than anything else.
Either way, the album is typical Swans in that it is dissonant, repetitive, and creepy as all hell. The numerous instrumental contributions and guest performances do make things a little more disjointed but are sufficiently controlled by the intriguing and Gira’s signature drawl. They even got former vocalist Jarboe to guest on a few songs though there aren’t any spots for her to truly shine. I suppose a man can dream…
Unsurprisingly, The Seer’s two-hour duration does make it an exhausting listen. Thankfully the longest songs are mesmerizing enough to keep from being bored but some of them could’ve been cut in half without any serious loss of atmosphere. Repetition has always been a staple of the Swans sound but repeating the same phrase for four to eight minutes straight with no variation is a bit much…
Fortunately, there really aren’t any fillers and a bunch of songs manage to be pretty damn brilliant. “Lunacy” opens things up with some interesting transitions and nightmarish mantras while the broken record grooves on “Mother Of The World” and “The Seer Returns” are guaranteed to stick in your head for days on end. The ballads also manage to be wonderful highlights as “The Daughter Brings The Water” evokes a quietly dark atmosphere while “Song For A Warrior” offers an almost country tone and an unbelievably touching performance courtesy of Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O.
Without a doubt, Swans’ twelfth studio album is one of their most intriguing releases as well as the most challenging that 2012 has to offer. As if they already weren’t hard enough to get a taste for, the incredibly long tempos and focus on repetition does make it a difficult album to get into. Yet at the same time, it does reward multiple listens and the highlights are among the best to date. It is intriguing to see where they will go from here. Maybe I should look into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs while I’m at it…
“Mother Of The World”
“The Seer Returns”
“The Daughter Brings The Water”
“Song For A Warrior”