Saturday, January 19, 2013
Swans - The Seer
Okay, so I'm fairly late in the game on this one. I spent a large part of the year (7 months to be exact) holed up and working on a screenplay that may never see the light of day due to artistic disagreements. In that time a lot of music came and went under my radar as I was completely unplugged from any semblence my usual practice of scowering high and low for new stuff. I played MAJOR catch-up during the last two months of the year, the whole time harboring a feeling that one of the albums that "got away" - Swans newest record The Seer yet somehow never managing to transmute that feeling into acquisition. Then, about a week after I posted my top ten albums of 2012 on Joup a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Seer and I loaded it into my ipod. About a week after that on a day off I put the album on and had trouble ever turning it off.
Frankly, until this record the Swans frightened me a bit. About five years ago I picked up the Cop/Young God - Greed/Holy Money reissue put out by Some Bizzare Records and although I LOVED the music I had a bit of an adverse reaction to the general tone of the record. Now, this in itself is a little out of character for me. I love a lot of dark, sometimes violent music. I'm not a prude and I don't scare easy. However, at the time I bought this record I had just finished reading George Petros' book Art That Kills and it had unnerved me, made me question some of the areas of art that I dabble in. Sometimes things we take at face value have deeper meanings that we don't stop to contemplate. Petros' book - while covering many artists whose work I truly love and consider historically important - also covers some that, well, fell more on the 'leave that the fuck alone' side of things. What's more around this time some strange happenings had resurfaced and to put it very succinctly a friend and I were seriously questioning whether A) a Magick ritual we had crafted in the form of a song for our band The Forest Children had caused a violent crime in our old recording space, or B) we were losing out minds for thinking this might be the case. My initial reaction to the Swans record was a combination of a psychic hangover from Mr. Petros' book, this hazy personal event and, specifically, the lyrics for track #2 on the Swans disc, a song titled Job.
I put the record away for a while.
I am a MASSIVE GodFlesh/Justin K. Broadrick fan and after buying one of the earlier Jesu albums and finding myself smitten with the vocals of Jarboe I made the connection and dug Swans back out. At first I isolated the Jarboe-sung tracks, soaking in the haunting, spectral atmosphere I'd not made it to before. Then I held my breath and gave the entire two discs another spin from beginning to end.
The first thing I noticed when I went back to Cop/Young God - Greed/Holy Money was how Michael Gira was so obviously a huge influence on them. Many a band quote Broadrick and GodFlesh as influences but I'd never really delved into what bands influenced them. But the overall tone of the album was just still too dark for me. Actually, dark is not even the tone. While beginning this post a couple of days ago I dug the record out again (much to my wife's chagrin) and listened to the entirety of the first disc. It still takes me to a mental place that I just don't feel comfortable going. But here's the thing - that in and of itself is a feat for an artist. Just because the record causes this reaction in me doesn't mean I don't think it's an important or 'good' record. Au contraire - this makes me think it is something extremely special, to be reserved for special occasions when my inner psychonaut feels the call to places darker than I normally trek.
Anyway, The Seer has trumped much of my list for last year - maybe all of it. It is a magickal, complex and limitlessly rewarding piece of music the likes of which I've not heard assembled in one place before. It is now time then, for me to go back and begin buying all of the Swans records I've missed out on over the years.