SWANS - THE SEER - Young God Records
This is an intimidating album to review. It is domineering in scale and scope. It is so big it takes two compact discs or three vinyl LPs to hold it and yet…..after nearly two months of listening, I think it could well be the pinnacle of Swans career. This is why I have left it to the eve of its release to finally try and nail down my thoughts on it.
When Gira says it took him thirty years to make this album, you better believe him. He really is not the sort who would hype for the press, he is just speaking his mind. “The Seer” feels linked to everything he has ever done, as though this was Gira's most thorough sketch of his own muse.
There are nods to Swans early no-wave origins with the harsh saxophone blasts, drum fury and speaking in tongues vocals on “The Apostate” and “93 Ave.B Blues”. Then there is Gira, the solemn songwriter on tracks like 'The Daughter Brings The Water' and 'Song For A Warrior' (where Karen O takes the lead vocal). It is clear he has not forgotten the craft he explored with Angels of Light. Former Angels collaborators Akron/Family even pop up to contribute backing vehicles to “Piece Of The Sky” as does Jarboe. She also lends her voice to “The Seer Returns”.
The album gets off to a striking start with “Lunacy” which sees Low provide backing vocals and could almost be a psychedelic proggy take on “White Light From The Mouth of Infinity” / “Love Of Life” era Swans. However, it really has such power and passion that it must be taken in the spirit of the moment and not as any kind of historical revival.
That is the crux of what makes “The Seer” such a powerful album. There may be references to the past but it could only have been made now. Perhaps the most powerful tracks here are the huge, encompassing ones that are born out of improvisations with the current line-up. Such as the thirty-two minute title track that sees them explore drone, noise, silence, intensity, rage, peace, bells, harmonica, power, restraint and everything.
However, the ultimate pinnacle to the album is “Avatar” which somehow manages to be all of the above. Sounding like both a powerful, primal band improvisation and a song at the same time, it hits hard in both emotions and intensity. It is hard to imagine we will hear a better track this year. It is hard to imagine we will hear a better album this year either.
Which raises the question, how come this double album manages to be both over too soon and at the same time seems to last a lifetime? It is not the first Swans double album, their previous farewell “Soundtracks For The Blind” was a fully loaded double CD but “The Seer” is a more coherent and powerful vision. Whereas “Soundtracks” sounded like a tieing up of loose ends, “The Seer” sounds like an opening up of new highways.
I may have emphasised in the above review how varied this album but another important point is how well this album flows. It may cover a wide palette of sounds, feelings and extremities but, crucially, like any classic album it has a logical order and intelligent track listing.
Speaking as a seasoned veteran of Gira’s career, I am still absolutely astounded by this album. As the album comes to a close with a savage drum out and primal yelling, you are left with no doubt, this album means fucking business. If you only had room for one Swans album in your collection, it should be this one. If you already own any Swans albums, then you need to make some space next to them for this one.