Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Swans - The Seer

Maybe I'll extend this "weekend" into the week. Music is surprisingly back on my mind with a few new releases, and a let up on my workload means I can finally check in more often. Coming down to the end of the year, it's about time to start covering all that I want to and haven't so far. Here's The Seer.

Swans is a challenging act that has a long and intensive backlog of records, although their breakup in the late '90s left a big gap in their discography. Other than Filth and a few tracks here and there, I can't say I've really gone out of my way to listen to them. The hype for Swans' return and the whole post-punk aesthetic and the DIY marketing of their releases led me to look into their material. The Seer doesn't impress. Before you aneurysm, let me explain.

The Seer is a unique album. There's plenty in the ways of instrumental variety, atmosphere, and layering that make it a standout release. I was absolutely floored by "Avatar" and "The Apostate." Both are marvelously droning masterworks and will have you enthralled from beginning to end. The bells and chimes of the former evoke an eerie atmosphere of nostalgia combined with the theatrics of a funeral procession. Like it should sound by that description, the music on these tracks is immersing and powerful. It is something I wish The Seer had more of.

The Seer is an ambitious album, and a good portion of the album comes off as flat. That's a big deal when the album is two hours long and best enjoyed while actively listening. With the variety comes a wide range of emotions, sounds, and arrangements that some people will undoubtedly applaud. Each track on The Seer seems to express some new feeling through it's droning simplicity and layering. The title track embodies this wide range of ideas itself, yet really doesn't explore any of that range in full. To me, this is both a blessing and a curse. The album doesn't tend to explore familiar territory, but sometimes it passes over new ground without taking a stop to admire the scenery. "Song For A Warrior" and "Mother Of The World" in particular come across as underdeveloped. The first being nearly akin to an early '90s bubblegum-pop throwback is particularly painful to listen to (coming from someone who enjoys Sorrow) while "Mother Of The World" is a song that never really goes anywhere over it's ten minutes. Both are hackneyed lyrically and there's really nothing "deep" or remotely interesting to hear here.

The post-rock and post-punk elements are alive and well on The Seer even if some of the atmosphere falls flat. Guitars are often distorted and low in the mix, drums are immense, and the overall feel of the album combined with the atmosphere is one that weighs down on your shoulders after listening. When Swans wants to, they work instruments together in a layered drone pattern, weaving soundscapes that leave you entranced. They manage to properly apply it to the odd dissonant tracks like "93 Ave. B Blues" and the more ambient "A Piece Of The Sky"where screeching and static are reminders of the noise scene Swans came out of. It's wonderful when done subtly on the second part of the title track "The Seer Returns" too. Definitely a piece I overlooked on my first listen. It really goes to show not all droning music is dull and sometimes repeated listens can change your opinion of an album like this. I'm sure the rock and punk elements make it more bearable to listen to repeatedly as well.

After all that, I still feel like this album is one that really missed the mark with me. Perhaps I was expecting too much, or perhaps I was hoping for something a bit more engrossing. The Seer's few uncompelling tracks really bring down the whole, and I have to take a step out of the atmosphere to find the 'next' button on repeated listens. Basically it's hit or miss as a contextually compelling album, but strong in it's individual tracks if that makes any sense.

I can definitely see why Michael Gira expressed his feeling that The Seer was unfinished.

6.0 out of 10


1. Lunacy
2. Mother of the World
3. The Wolf
4. The Seer
5. The Seer Returns
6. 93 Ave. B Blues
7. The Daughter Brings the Water
8. Song for a Warrior
9. Avatar
10. A Piece of the Sky
11. The Apostate

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