Posts Tagged ‘Reissue’

Young God Records

It’s perhaps too much to convey the experience of hearing Soundtracks for the Blind for the first time on its release in 1996. Admittedly, hearing any Swans release for the first time was memorable – I was introduced in the late 80s via Children of God, which, aged 17, was unlike anything I had heard before. It was what one might call a pivotal moment. I was compelled to explore their back-catalogue, which yielded a succession of further pivotal moments, not east of all on the discovery of Cop.

For all its length, The Great Annihilator was pretty straightforward, and represented a continuation of the White Light / Love of Life albums. Just a year later, Soundtracks for the Blind was altogether different, and represented a new expansion on all levels. It was about three hours long, for a start. The third song was over a quarter of an hour long, and there were extensive instrumental passages that bordered on ambient. Elsewhere, reworkings of older songs, bent almost beyond recognition (‘YRP’ and ‘YRP 2’ emerging from ‘Your Property’ from 1984’s Cop), surfaced amidst the churning soundscapes drawn from the contents of the library of tape loops and found sounds gathered by Michael Gita over the band’s whole career. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime’s work. It felt fitting it should be Swans’ final studio album, and it seems appropriate that its remastered reissue should arrive when Gira has again called time on the band. Its arrival gives us cause to reflect on the cyclical nature of the band’s career, and the differences and similarities between their first unbroken span and their later incarnation, which closed with another uber epic in the form of The Glowing Man and followed by a live document (as Soundtracks was accompanied by the conclusive Swans are Dead, so The Glowing Man was accompanied by Deliquescence).

This is the first time Soundtracks has been released on vinyl, and naturally, its formatting and packaging is something else: as the press release and Young God website detail, ‘the vinyl package will consist of four LPs in jackets enclosed in a box with a poster, insert and download card. The box set will be a limited edition of 4,000 copies worldwide and once sold out will be followed later in 2018 by a gatefold LP version. The album will also be reissued on CD featuring a repackage of the original digipak for the 1996 Atavistic release plus a bonus disc of the contemporaneous Die Tür Ist Zu EP (a German language version of some of the material from Soundtracks that also includes unique material) recently released for the first time on vinyl in the USA for Record Store Day 2018. Outside of the USA, Die Tür Ist Zu EP will be released as a limited edition companion piece double vinyl set, also on 20th July’. Yes, as with the previous reissues, they’ve gone all put to render a truly definitive edition.

Listening to Soundtracks now, it seems that Gira, having declared the band spent in 1997, spent a long time cogitating over the directions and possibilities that this album presented, and took them as the starting point for the post-millennial iteration: it certainly shares more with this period than its predecessors, with exceptions like ‘The Yum Yab Killers’ which delivers the same kind of punch as ‘Mother/Father’ on The Great Annihilator (and recoded live, with somewhat muffled sound, it still seems a shade incongruous in its inclusion here, although Jarboe sounds so fucking fierce I’d not want to make to big a deal of it). We’re reminded, too, that Soundtracks emerged during a fairly prolific spell for Gira, and it’s perhaps inevitable that elements of other projects – namely the solo album Drainland and The Body Lovers / The Body Haters. ‘All Lined Up’ is a different version of ‘I See Them All Lined Up’ which featured on Drainland. It’s simultaneously more distorted and weirded-out, and more explosive, more driving, more… Swans.

Some of the rambling monologues are quite disturbing (with recordings of Gira’s father talking about his life and excerpts from FBI tapes, amongst other things), but then so is the musical accompaniment that provides the backdrop: ‘I Was a Prisoner Inside Your Skull’ and ‘How they Suffer’ make for uncomfortable listening.

There are some incredibly tender, raw, emotive moments: Gira’s voice, cracked and plaintive on ‘Animus’, as woodwind bursts around him from a hovering hush, is one of Swans’ most affecting moments. For a band whose back catalogue contains some of the most intense sonic brutality ever committed to tape, it’s quite a contrast, and perhaps all the more moving in context.

It’s a sprawling expanse of sound, and it isn’t entirely cohesive. Gira’s conception of sound as something malleable and his approach to dynamics would evolve immensely in the time away from Swans, and as such, Soundtracks is as much a signpost toward the next phase as a bookend to the one it belongs. At the time, it was almost too much to digest. On revisiting, the same holds true. The density of both sound and ideas, the sheer scale of the album, the fact that it condenses fifteen years into two and a half hours… of course it’s too much to bear. This was always the way with Swans: even their gentler albums are delivered with an intensity that transcends words. And this, of course, is the ultimate objective of music – to touch body and mind in ways that are beyond any form of articulation. Soundtracks for the Blind doesn’t simply touch those parts, but poke, prod, squeeze and stab at them.

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Fire Records – 15th September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s a segment that starts around the six-minute mark on ‘Absent Friend’ where the guitars, soaked in reverb, chime and interweave, forming a delicate latticework of notes which is the very quintessence of post-rock. Hex was released in 1994. While much of the album isn’t quite post-rock as we now know it here in 2017, listening back to the debut album by the band which saw Simon Reynolds famously apply the term ‘post-rock’ (although often cited as marking the term’s coinage, this is as much-debated as what actually constitutes post-rock), it’s not hard to identify this as the definitive moment at which the tropes which define post-rock as we broadly recognise it began to coalesce.

The intense and arduous work that went into Hex would ultimately lead to the band’s disintegration, and it would be a full twenty years before Graham Sutton would reconvene Bark Psychosis to deliver a second album in the form of ///Codename: Dustsucker. But one could reasonably argue that with Hex, Bark Psychosis achieved more than many bands could even aspire to over the course of ten albums.

The delicate, evocative piano of ‘The Loom’, accompanied by soft strings arguably set a certain corner of the blueprint acts like Glissando and Her Name is Calla would come to place at the centre of their sound, and the meandering melodies would subsequently be developed by the likes of Oceansize – admittedly, more neoprog than post-rock, but this only highlights the range of Hex and the far-reaching vision it demonstrates. ‘Big Shot’ boasts a strolling bass and warping, dreamy atmospherics over a rolling glockenspiel and a semi-ambient breakdown in the middle. ‘Finger Spit’ may not feature the kind of epic crescendos which characterise a lot of ‘classic’ post-millennium post-rock, but its hushed, quietly intense space clearly explores surging dynamics. The gloomy discordant brass of ‘Eyes and Smiles’ prefaces the early sound if iLiKETRAiNS. And so on.

Across the course of the seven tracks (these are long expansive compositions), Hex weaves cinematic soundscapes and wring all shades of emotion not from the lyrics and vocals, which are largely secondary, but from the music itself. It has texture and depth, and at its best, possesses a transportative, almost transcendental quality that goes beyond mere music. This, it’s fair to say, has been the ambition of the acts which have come to stand as synonymous with post-rock, disparate and different as they are, from Godspeed You! Back Emperor’s immense, surging soundscapes, to the chiming crescendo-orientated compositions of Explosions in the Sky via the twee elvin twinkles of Sigur Rós.

Hex was certainly not an album of its time. 1994 was the year of In Utero, and Live Through This, Sixteen Stone by Bush, and Weezer’s eponymous debut, as well as Dookie, Smash, and Parklife, and Definitely Maybe, His and Hers, and The Second Coming¸ as well as Dog Man Star. As grunge jostled with Britpop in a divided musical landscape, and in a year which also delivered Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, The Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, and Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible. Put simply, Hex did not fit. Amongst broadly contemporaneous works, it does share more commonality with The God Machine’s Scenes from the Second Storey (1992), Slowdive’s Slouvaki (1993) and Rosa Mota’s Wishful Sinking (1995) (all unappreciated at the time and still criminally underrated) than anything that could be considered zeitgeist.

Now seems an appropriate distance to re-evaluate Hex. And even now, despite so many of its tropes having been absorbed, assimilated and endlessly replicated, it sounds beyond contemporary. It possesses so much depth and range, and conveys a close, personal intensity which has absolutely nothing to do with raging volume. Within or without context, Hex is a remarkable album. Yes, it effectively spawned a genre, and yet, it still stands apart. And that’s every reason to sit back and enjoy Hex not as an influential album, but simply on its own merits, of which there are plenty.

Bark Psychosis - Hex COVER

Young God Records – 28th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The great Swans back catalogue reappraisal and re-release continues with a brace of albums from near the end of the band’s initial incarnation. The latest pairs Swans’ 1995 album The Great Annihilator with Gira’s simultaneous solo release, Drainland. 1995 was a fertile year: Jarboe also released Sacrificial Cake through Alternative Tentacles in the same year, in some respects mirroring the period eight years previous, when two different Skin albums – effectively Gia and Jarboe solo releases – appeared in 1987 and 1988 in near synchronicity with Swans’ pivotal Children of God. Indeed, while the ‘definitive’ reissue programme is both extremely welcome and is a genuine boon for Swans fans both new and old, it does highlight the complexity of the band’s back catalogue. Precisely which album sits with which is a question which will never find an easy resolution, but on balance, Gira and Young God have made a decent fist of presenting a cohesive and linear recataloguing of the band’s initial history.

The Swans album The Great Annihilator arrived some three years after the epic twin salvoes of Love of Life and White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, which had represented both an evolution and a return to form following The Burning World in 1989. And while The Great Annihilator clearly belonged to the same broad phase as its immediate predecessors, it also felt more focused and more intense. It also stands as a transitionary album, the last studio release before the immense, everything-through-the-wringer churning mash of Soundtracks for the Blind, at which point the first phase of Swans collapsed and terminated.

Soundtracks perhaps hinted at the direction the reincarnated Swans would take on their return, but lacks the immensity of the sound they would produce on their post-millennial return, and equally lacks the focus of The Great Annihilator, and in this context, it’s this album which stands as such a significant document of the band in the later years of their first phase. The 2002 reissue saw the album augmented with a six-minutelive recording of ‘I Am the Sun’, which is also included here. However, this version is more about presenting a ‘restored’ version, returning to the recently-excavated original tapes to deliver the album as intended.

Great Annihilator / Drainland (Remastered 2017) - PRE ORDER

By this point Gira had perfected the cavernous, monotone drone which is now his signature: emerging on Children of God and honed over the course of White Light and Love of Life, on The Great Annihilator and Drainland the dark, bleak detachment conveyed in that vocal is as terrifying as any of the growling, barking threats of violence contained on Filth and Cop. He may have sounded brutal in his rage on those releases, but here Gira affects a demeanour which is altogether calmer, and consequently all the more dangerous in its psychopathy. He no longer sounds like a tortured, tormented human soul: he sounds like he’s detached himself from humanity.

What makes The Great Annihilator such a strong album is its range, which is equalled by its force and its cinematic production, balancing slow, repetitive, hypnotic tracks with explosive, percussion driven compositions. As such, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the ugly / beautiful juxtaposition which characterises the Swans ethos. The raw, visceral Jarboe-led ‘Mother/Father’ is gruelling in its intensity and contrasts with the mesmeric ‘Killing for Company’ and the expansive, uplifting ‘Where Does a Body End?’ (which stand among some of my all-time favourite songs by Swans – although, if truth be told, in the scheme of their vast output, it would be easy to fill a double album with my favourite songs by Swans).

‘I Am the Sun’ shares common ground with previous percussion-led tracks like ‘Power and Sacrifice’ (which stand a world away from earlier percussion-led tracks as featured on their albums prior to Children of God, which very much marked a turning point for the band), but at the same time, offers the first hints of what the band would evolve to produce during their second, post-millennium phase. Elsewhere, ‘Mind/Body/Sound/Light’ and ‘Celebrity Lifestyle’ display a certain newfound commercialism (beyond the folk leanings of The Burning World), magnificently counterpointed by Gira’s monotone baritone drone. And who else could succeed with a line like ‘she’ just a drug addiction, a self-reflecting image of a narcotized mind’? ‘Alcohol the Seed’, meanwhile, is sparse, stark and harrowing, the direct, declarative lyrics standing at the point where art and life intersect to deliver maximum discomfort to the receiver. ‘Killing for Company’ is delicate yet beyond dark, a song which reflects Gira’s interest in serial killers and takes its title from Brian Masters’ 1993 biography of Dennis Nielsen.

Gira’s solo debut, Drainland, has always stood as a singular release, both stylistically and in overall terms of the Swans / Gira oeuvre. It also seems to be one of those releases which has been somewhat overlooked.

The first track, ‘You See Through Me’, which features a serrated, grating, oscillating drone and haunting piano provide the musical backdrop to a recording of Gira, drunk, nasty, arguing with his then-partner Jarboe over money and his alcohol problem. It’s one of those works which crosses a line that will never be readily acceptable, where art transgresses the boundaries of the personal and the public. This, of course, is art of the highest order, that demands the receiver face uncomfortable and painful realities. Simultaneously, Gira, in his capacity or artist, dismantles all sense of persona and lay himself bare in the most unfiltered way imaginable.

It paves the way for what is a difficult album on every level, as he trawls the darkest recesses of his psyche: the lyrics may not be as visceral as those contained on early Swans releases, but they’re every bit as gut-wrenching in their impact, not least of all because they’re so intensely personal.

Great Annihilator / Drainland (Remastered 2017) - PRE ORDER

It’s a dark, stark album, which makes for uncomfortable listening on many occasions: even the more overtly post-Children of God tracks, where Gira spins hypnotic, opiate-hazed acoustic strums, as on ‘Unreal’, it’s more nightmarish than dream-like. And then there are jarring, nauseatingly difficult loop-led nightmare dirges like ‘Fan Letter’. And yet, the album contains moments of true beauty. Songs like ‘Why I Ate My Wife’ (which again alludes to Gira’s serial killer fascination and also draws on, and shares its title with, a piece from 1993 which appeared in Gira’s book of collected prose, The Consumer (1994)), dark as they may be lyrically, are also truly magnificent, and as touching – and well-crafted – as anything Gira has done during his long career.

The mastering seems comparatively quiet, but that’s largely on account of the fact everything tends to be mastered so damn loud and so damn bright these days that much of the dynamic range is lost. The very purpose of this remaster is about audio fidelity and unravelling knots in the original processing. Sonically, this remaster feels richer, denser than the original releases, although it would take obsessive comparison and a lot of time to draw out all of the detail. Most importantly, this release makes two classic Swans / related albums (one being something of a lost or unsung classic at that) readily available once more, and on vinyl, too – The Great Annihilator has been commanding obscene prices on the second-hand market for a long time now, while Drainland was only released in the US packaged with Jarboe’s Sacrificial Cake and is again expensive and hard to come by: as such, it all adds up to an essential release.

Artemisia Records – 17th June 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Wolves In The Throne Room have achieved that rare thing of achieving a substantial fan-base and widespread recognition, while retaining the ultimate cult status. They’re genuinely seminal, having reinvented and reinvigorated black metal, largely on account of the imagination they’ve displayed in their approach to the genre’s well-established tropes. Diadem of 12 Stars was their debut album, released in 2006 , and even now, it’s in a different league from the majority of the black metal being churned out in 2016.

Wolves in the Throne Room have always been about expanding the horizons of the black metal genre, and making music on their own terms, and their devastating debut clearly sets the co-ordinates for a monstrous musical adventure.

Originally released on a small DIY label and unavailable physically for many years, this reissued version has been carefully remastered by Jason Ward at Chicago Mastering Service. The band redeveloped every photograph from the original negatives, creating richer, high quality prints in order to present the artwork as originally envisioned. In short, there’ much to get excited about. This is an album that deserves to be appreciated as conceived and envisaged.

The tale around its conception and evolution is one worth retelling, because the context matters. To save some typing I shall quote from het press blurb: ‘Written almost exclusively in a windowless, black room over the long dark nights of Winter 2005, Diadem Of 12 Stars was the first official Wolves In the Throne Room release and built around the reimagining of black metal as an ode to rain storms, wood smoke and the wild energies of the Pacific Northwest… Diadem Of 12 Stars is about lunar sorcery on Cascadian mountaintops and encounters with wild spirits. In contrast to the icy, razor sharp soundscapes of their 90s Norwegian forebears, the sound of Diadem is lush and ethereal, dripping with rain soaked moss and lichen.’

Indeed, what really stands out is just how textured and varied the songs are. It’s blistering blinding in its intensity. It shows all the hallmarks of classic black metal, in particular the dominance of the dense wall of noise guitar and the ruined, demonic vocals. But there are passages of exquisite beauty alongside the raging torment. The first track, ‘Queen of Borrowed Light’ is by no means a post-rock track, but detours into magnificent and luscious instrumental passages which are almost the very definition of post-rock. Weaving between different moods and exploring both an emotional and sonic range, it’s an intriguingly

Multi-faceted composition which immediately set Wolves in the Throne Room apart from their peers.

The opening segment of ‘Face in a Night Time Mirror Part I’ is remarkably accessible, almost a conventional rock composition, which feeds into a delicate acoustic passage, before, of course, all hell breaks loose in an earth-shattering tumult of ferocious angst. This is exactly as it should be.

‘Face in a Night Time Mirror Part II’ dredges the silt beds of the bowels of hell for an excruciatingly heavy fourteen minutes. It’s black and it’s metal: it’s the sound of purgatory, distilled and amplified.

The last of the four tracks, he twenty-minute ‘(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars’ is beyond immense: it’s not simply a matter of length, and I’ll refrain from making any puerile gags about girth etc. for a change. Instead, shut up and listen and let your jaw hang as it transitions from expansive prog rock to snarling, speaker-annihilating metal of the blackest shade. The shock and awe is, again, less about the album’s extremity but its range. It’s an outstanding and incredible album, and the passage of a decade has done nothing to dull the fact. And this more than justifies revisiting it now.

 

Wolves in the Throne Room  - Diadem

 

Wolves in the Thrown Room Online