Swans
The Seer


3.0
good

Review

by Alex Newton USER (43 Reviews)
November 13th, 2012 | 172 replies | 4,788 views


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: There's some inspired and rewarding material here if you're willing to wade through mind-numbing repetition and questionable songwriting choices.

14 of 14 thought this review was well written

One thing about The Seer is indisputable: this album is massive. Sprawling across 120 minutes and two discs, this behemoth is a radio DJ’s nightmare and a prog junkie’s dream. The songs range from a minute and a half to over half an hour, telling nigh-indecipherable tales of anguish and uprising, foresight and doom. Swans claim that The Seer is the culmination of 30 years of work, and the sheer scale of the album lives up to such a claim. And yet when it’s all said and done, the question remains: how much is too much?

Great concept albums transcend their components. Each song becomes stronger from the influence of those around it. Post-metal band Isis’ crowning albums Oceanic and Panopticon are full of mini-epics that peak and trough, carrying you with them and eventually lifting you up (“Grinning Mouths”) or punching you in the gut (“Carry”). Put together, however, they create a greater whole that redefines your world as you listen. You’re letting the ocean crush out your last breath; you’re in the Panopticon and a thousand pairs of eyes are slowly corroding your soul. There’s a certain visceral momentum that builds, a climb towards the summit, and each piece brings you closer.

Swans have all the pieces here – they just don’t often string them together in a cohesive, convincing manner. The opening chants of “Lunacy” induce goosebumps, but by the time the title is repeated exactly the same way fifteen times, its power has degenerated into a guessing game as to when something new will happen. Twenty times now. Still waiting…twenty-five…thirty times, and finally, mercifully, the band breaks into a new verse. Repetition is a tactic that, when used tastefully, can create incredible tension and paranoia, which is what I assume Swans are going for. GY!BE are astoundingly repetitive, but the end-of-the-world dread that saturates F#A# keeps you on the edge of your seat, with perhaps the exception of “Slow Moving Trains.” Even then, such atonal droning serves as a juxtaposition to the song around it, making the hopeful tones of “The Cowboy” seem even more heroic. Here, “A Piece of the Sky” begins with almost ten minutes of noise, ranging from static to delay-ridden bells that sound like John Cage on coke in a wind chime shop. Perhaps I just don’t “get” drone music, but there comes a point where incessant repetition begins to turn into audial Novocain.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a thirty-two minute song – French prog visionaries Magma had four even longer ones, complete with their own language and mythology. Where “The Seer” veers wildly off-course, however, is its unbearably long middle section, composed of the exact same chord pounded for eight straight minutes, accented by various degrees of detuned guitar noises and random percussion. Feel free to spend eight minutes on the same chord, but for the love of god, do something besides torture a harmonica for another six minutes once it’s over. The Seer is chock full of such arbitrary turns, with long expanses of music that have little to no dynamic variation. It’s infuriating, really, to spend such a long time waiting for Swans to say something, figuratively speaking, only to be rewarded with lunatic ravings and spoken-word pieces that, against all logic, still sound out of tune.

Still, there are several redeeming qualities among the hyperextended drones. The musicians in Swans are often creative with their playing, particularly with the percussion and atmosphere, the latter of which is composed of just about every instrument you can think of – accordion, dulcimer, piano, mandolin, clarinet, horns, steel cello (what?), violin, bassoon…the list goes on. “Mother of the World” benefits from the successive entrance of several of these, building for a few minutes in foreboding fashion until the entrance of nauseating caterwauling that passes for vocals during much of the first half of the song. A synthesized organ carries a lull in the track before another crescendo of acoustic guitar and thumping bass, leading to a finale of more off-key singing, though this time in a charming Bob Dylan-esque way. Speaking of which, the lyrics! If there’s anything about this album that is truly outstanding, it’s the crazed ranting in the lyric booklet. Take this example, from “A Piece of the Sky”:

“In a burning white ship / In the taste of her lips / In the blood of the swans / As the sun fucks the dawn
In the mud of a lake / In the drunk and the dazed / Are you there?

In the now that is not / On a ladder to god / On a mountain stripped bare / With your hand in my hair
Behind the face of the sky / on a disappearing line / Are you there?”


The line, “Are you there?” is repeated at the end of every stanza, and serves to tie together all the delirious, romantically desolate images in the song. There’s a story in there somewhere, but it’s contorted like a mirage, just out of grasp. It makes for very compelling songwriting, since the music is left to complete the puzzle in a deliciously abstract way. Unfortunately, you have to wade through some muddy ideas and unfulfilled musical promises to get there.

In the end, The Seer is a wildly imaginative album that tries everything and sometimes succeeds. If it were cut in half, perhaps the brightest ideas would be able to shine through instead of being drowned by an hour of music that’s either unwelcome, unpleasant, or just an absurd extension of previous material. I have to give Swans credit, though. Albums like The Seer – beautiful, ugly, grandiose, understated, and everything in-between – are what keep music fascinating because they’re simply unlike anything else out there. There’s imagination behind this, and musicians who clearly put time and thought into every piece of it. Whether they succeed is a matter of personal taste, but you could do far worse than giving your inner musical pioneer a very long, confusing, and occasionally rewarding journey with The Seer.



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user ratings (979)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
pedro70512
November 12th 2012



2398 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Time to kiss my approval rating goodbye...

Cygnatti
November 12th 2012



21349 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

yeah still never listened to this

not sure if I can trust you on this one since it's like out of your jurisdiction

Digging: The Avalanches - Since I Left You

Ethics
November 12th 2012



4112 Comments


great review

YoYoMancuso
November 12th 2012



10751 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

you backed yourself up well, pos'd


although i have to disagree about Piece Of The Sky, that's the most well-crafted song on here imo

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2012



3327 Comments


Very nice review, a little long but that's OK since you do have to back up your point on this one. Have a pos

GiaNXGX
November 12th 2012



4867 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Sweet, for me it's a 3.5, all these 5's are ridiculous. That's why I made a list about it, the list that tells the truth about the seer: "Truths about the Seer": http://www.sputnikmusic.com/list.php?memberid=732694&listid=109426

Cygnatti
November 12th 2012



21349 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

it's not a kiss review

how can I possibly trust this?

cinaedus
November 12th 2012



26296 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

lol

Digging: Anberlin - Lowborn

zxlkho
November 12th 2012



3460 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The repetition is what makes this album great.

zxlkho
November 12th 2012



3460 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

also GiaNXGX that list was bad and you should feel bad

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
November 12th 2012



15687 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

wow someone else actually 3'd it too

Digging: Synaesthesia (UK) - Synaesthesia

Lenix
November 12th 2012



793 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

It's the correct score for this anyways

cinaedus
November 12th 2012



26296 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

no

Lenix
November 12th 2012



793 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

hmm

WeepingBanana
November 12th 2012



10035 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

almost

GiaNXGX
November 12th 2012



4867 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

also GiaNXGX that list was bad and you should feel bad


hmmmm, I don't see why I should because there's a thing called subjectivity and the fact that you 5'd
this takes any credibility from your statement, sorry. Learn how to post-punk and you'll see this is
really good but not the second coming of Jesus Christ.

SeaAnemone
November 12th 2012



19674 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I get that there "needed" to be a backlash after this got an absurd amount of hype, but the acclaim is oh-so-warranted, in my eyes. This review is a little weird to me because it feels like you completely hit the nail on the head one sentence "It makes for very compelling songwriting, since the music is left to complete the puzzle in a deliciously abstract way" but then completely backtrack the next, "Unfortunately, you have to wade through a mire of muddy ideas and unfulfilled musical promises to get there." Frankly none of the ideas here feel muddy to me nor is there anything here that could be described as unfulfilled, and I feel like you'd be hard-pressed to point any examples of those out.

It's been said before much more eloquently in ways I won't try to match but the beauty of this album really is in the spaces in-between and the drawn-out segments and the sections that are simply nauseating. It's what makes the album so affecting.

Another thing: I totally get how "purists" (lol) feel that this is massively overhyped and that people haven't properly explored their back catalog, but just for reference I was a big Swans before their recent shit and this eclipses their discography, I'm pretty sure. Then again, this isn't quite as comparable to much of their discography, so whatever.

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

Cygnatti
November 12th 2012



21349 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

a 5 doesn't mean anything like the 2nd coming of Jesus though

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
November 12th 2012



15687 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

cant come second time if you never came first time

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2012



15262 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I have no gripes with the review, I pos'd.

I think the repetition helps The Seer concoct a world of its own. The length seems unnecessary at first, but as you familiarize yourself with the album, you'll realize that much like a foreign culture, you must spend time in it to fully understand and appreciate what it is truly about. Spending a half an hour listening to the same sounds droning on forever may seem abrasive and unpleasant, but it is necessary in order to immerse yourself in the apocalyptic hell hole that Gira made.

Digging: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus



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