Review / Multiple Authors
The Seer

Young God (2012) — Bob, Cheryl

Swans – The Seer cover artwork
Swans – The Seer — Young God, 2012

This is the third review of this that I am writing and the first two were these rather objective and staid ruminations on the music that The Seer contains, but both of those were completely false and void of any possible feeling, making the words empty and worthless to anyone who would read either one in anyway; I threw them both out and decided to do what Lester Bangs did, grab this fucker by the balls and tell you people exactly what I really feel from this Swans record because that might at least be interesting to skim over by a reader.

You see, Michael Gira’s music has always touched a raw and primal nerve somewhere deep in my psyche (particular the early, more overtly visceral slabs); so, breaking into and listening to The Seer is an act akin to mainlining the emotions and rhythms that Swans lay out there for the album. I will not spend time comparing this record to anything else that the band has done, suffice it to say that you can certainly elements of every era of Swans woven throughout the DNA of The Seer as if Gira, Westerberg, and company decided to throw in the kitchen sink here; I mean, The Seer is over two hours long and threatens to consume me while I am listening to it here for the second time in a row (yeah 4 hours straight of The Seer is just what I need right now).

The half hour plus long title track is totally kicking my ass right now, and listening to the title track is more akin to witnessing some tribal dance from afar just out of complete view of what the natives are doing around the bonfire as they twist and undulate and shout and sing their hyper religious exhortations and pleading; “The Seer” feels completely animalistic and more akin to a shamanic exercise than a rock song, and by the time the over thirty minute monster finishes, you feel emotionally spent as Gira and company furiously tortured the various instruments that they used to conjure this hysterical fervor. I get carried away by the song every time that it comes on my stereo and never fails to hit me with some new sound and just the steady ebb and flow is devastatingly hypnotic wraps my conscious up and takes me other places than where I am.

And yet, The Seer still has plenty of other shake you out of your skin moments that pull you up out of that nine to five stupor and take you elsewhere; “The Seer Returns” is easily one of the tracks that I go back to over and over again with its throbbing bass groove that sends shivers down my spine, and the gentleness of “ The Daughter Brings The Water” is strikingly beautiful sounding as is the almost country sounding “Song For A Warrior” (just in a completely different way as those mournful slide guitars just kill me) . I also find myself gravitating to the triumphant building melodies of “The Avatar” and think that this song contains my favorite vocal performance from Gira as well.

But, no matter what, I still point to “A Piece Of The Sky” as my whole performance from Swans on The Seer; I forget that it is virtually twenty minutes long as the sounds are like a great book that you sit down to read and 8 hours later finish and realize that you just read a whole book in one sitting, and when the whole group comes down around the ten minute mark (following a calm ambient passage), I picture the members walking in out of an anonymous desert into an old haggard western town as each member seems to be able to be distinctly heard before finally resolving in a sweet song that also shows off Gira’s rich baritone.

If you claim to like Swans in any way, then there should be plenty of goodies nestled in The Seer for you. I am not going to call this a perfect album or even my favorite Swans album, but it is a damn fine piece of work that would only not touch you in some way if you had stone in place of where a heart belongs; The Seer has more blood and sweat and bile and cum that is virtually audible than most other records out there, and for that, I will hold on to this behemoth of an album and listen to it many times over to satiate that nerve that Swans always seems to trigger in my subconscious.

9.0 / 10Bob

See also

Approaching Swans, and in particular attempting to “review” a Swans record is much like approaching a rock face you know is almost unscaleable. There is a way up and over, but it seems so very far away that at the beginning you spend at least an hour staring at a blank page willing something to happen – and other people have done it before, so it must be possible....right? It’s writers block in its truest form. You know what it is you want to say and you know that there is a way through, but you spend a good deal of time waiting and waiting and waiting for that moment to hit. And then it comes to you. In undulating tones, in powerful and dissonant strikes, in mystical pulses of guitar – and finally in the form of Swans frontman and voice, Michael Gira. “Lunacy” rolls in on a desperately repetitive wave and features contributing vocals from Alan and Mimi of slowcore legends Low which add a touch of, well, lunacy to proceedings. The Seer is pure Swans; all at once unlike anything the band have ever produced but ultimately Swans through and through. There’s moments of utter madness during “Mother of the World,” Gira not vocalising in any way, shape or form for a fair portion of the ten minute track and taking on an incomprehensible sway in the progression underneath . The bombastic movement of the song soon drifts into more fathomable territory and light touches of guitar marry with Gira’s unmistakable baritone. It’s delightful in its curiosity and Gira himself has stated that The Seer is the culmination of every single musical journey he has made, Swans or no and this record is definitively majestic and mystical, with many sounds and feelings coursing through its many-faceted veins. What strikes about The Seer is the emphasis on the voyage. Swans have never been a band to shy away from story-telling and each of their records has a texture and emotion that attaches itself to the listener and carries you through to the other side with no care for how much this music will affect and destroy. The Seer contains not one, but three tracks of extraordinary length that push this record into the realm of two hours of running time. Yet not one second passes where you can feel that passage of time, each moment and note and strand of music holds a hypnotising magic within and the title track, “The Seer” ebbs and flows with a beautiful mystery, the onus particularly on the ethnic side of the music giving the song a wonderful spiritual perspective. The credits for additional musicians on this track alone is worthy of many a bow of respect and some incredible artists make an appearance throughout this album. Bruce Lamont, Karen O, the aforementioned Alan and Mimi of Low, and Jarboe of course contributes her own inimitable style to several tracks. The jarring nature of “93 Ave. B Blues” sits within the record as a monument to atrocity, the track writing with a somewhat black noise aesthetic. It’s new and frightening and it’s downright magnificent; Swans have raised their own bar with The Seer and damn, are they going to have to work hard to top it. But top it they do, with the sombre “Song for a Warrior” and its woeful verse imbued with Karen O’s static lilt which segues into the impressive “Avatar” quite sublimely and its electric atmosphere. Closing The Seer on “The Apostate,” Swans revel in abject misery and layers of sound and rhythm. This twenty-three minute opus takes on many forms during its lifecycle; a long and drawn out introduction sweeps with minimal effort and echoing structures of noise underpin everything to follow – the martial-esque nature of the drum line, the slow and doom-like progression towards finality, the sudden bursts of destructive noise and Gira’s ability to completely consume and entice with barely any words uttered. His howls and wails offer an insight into the mind behind it all, but an insight is all that is allowed. Explanations are neither offered nor given and that’s exactly how it should be. Music is mystery. Swans is life.

See also

Swans – The Seer cover artwork
Swans – The Seer — Young God, 2012

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Average score across two writers

9.0 / 10 — Bob, Cheryl • August 27, 2012

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