Posts Tagged ‘Remastered’

24 April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title is pretty much a summary of this release: a collection – or compilation – of works by dark ambient act In The Absence Of Words. It’s the first of two volumes, and draws on their seventeen previous releases (discounting the 2020 ‘reworked’ version of III (originally 2017).

There are a lot of numerals to assimilate here – which is a point of interest given that the man behind In The Absence Of Words is a copywriter by day, a person who spends the majority of their time immersed in the formation of words in order to convey specific information. The craving for some time away from words is one I can personally relate to, and is one of the reasons for my pursuit of a musical project centred around noise and abstraction. We all need a break from the dayjob, and for a writer, that headspace comes not from time out of the office in the gym, but from something not only devoid of words, but which blanks out words completely, and covers over the internal monologue and that inner voice, whatever it’s saying, to wash away and cleanse the mind of words, if only for a short while.

A Collection I may assemble six compositions from a vast and swiftly-built catalogue, but it’s explicitly not a ‘best of’ intended to shift units of back-catalogue: instead, it’s a carefully-curated project where the pieces have been, as the liner notes explain, ‘carefully selected to complement each other and to create a single immersive listening experience. Each track was originally released individually on Bandcamp between 2017 and 2019 and each has been remastered and assembled specifically for this compilation.

As such, it’s less about singling out individual pieces and immersing oneself in the holistic experience, allowing oneself to simply take the journey and observe the landscape, absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents. That said, there are clear distinctions between the tracks, and these very much signpost the route from beginning to end.

As such, some notes on the passage seem appropriate, in the same way one may jot down observations from any other journey, and ‘The Meeting Point’ undulates slowly, and I’m reminded of the tranquil ripples of Prurient when they’re not devastating the ambience with a blitzkrieg of white noise and distorted vocals.

The seventeen-and-a-half minute ‘Suspension of Belief’, originally featured on debut I back in 2017 isn’t discernibly different, but swells and groans out a textural rinse that rumbles and rolls on and on, its churning grind becoming quite uncomfortable over time.

Much of the album is soft, cloud-like, with sonorous, billowing drones changing shape and form often but subtly over time, and while the second half of the album feels less varied in terms of both texture and tone, the way the individual pieces melt into one another to create a extended sonic space in which it’s possible to relax and empty your mind is credit to the artist for his selection and sequencing of the material to render such an experience.

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A Collection I

Neurot Recordings – 2nd August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The best collaborations are greater than the sum of the parts, and transcend 2 + 2 = 4 equations of artists playing to type while rubbing up against one another in a predictable fashion. We often hope for more, but artists seldom really deliver.

The self-explanatory Neurosis & Jarboe, originally released in 2003, now fully remastered and with entirely new artwork from Aaron Turner, and available on vinyl for the first time sounds neither like Neurosis nor Jarboe, nor 50/50 Neurosis and Jarboe, but something that draws on the best elements of both to forge something very, very different.

The lugubrious slow grind of Neurosis is present in the low bass churn and the more ethereal elements of Jarboe’s vocals, which have brought grace to Swans since 1986 and her own solo work over a good two decades now. Both artists’ work has a certain timelessness about it.

In context, this is both noteworthy and, if not exactly ironic, a point of cognitive dissonance. In my head, 2003 is recent and this reissue is shockingly close to the original release. But this is the point at which the passage of time and its acceleration comes screaming in my face to remind me that 2003 was sixteen years ago. There are kids who’ve been born and are now of a legal age to raise families and to vote since the album was first released, and yet Swans calling it a day the first time around in ‘96 with Soundtracks for the Blind still feels quite recent. How is this album sixteen years old? Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, and Neurosis & Jarboe has very much stood the test of time, largely because it doesn’t sound quite like anything else.

‘His Last Words’ is perhaps the most overtly ‘modern’ cut on offer, and after a slow guitar grind, hits a groove that straddles dance and psychedelia. But there’s a deep, dark atmosphere that creeps over this and the album as a whole, with the majority of the tracks stretching out beyond seven minutes and pushing repetitive motives which worm their way under the skin and penetrate the skull by means of sonic bludgeoning.

The nine-minute ‘Erase’ brings some heavy, emotion-wrought doom-country with a distortion-tinged vocal that alludes to a dirgy Come, with Jarboe sounding more like Thalia Zedek in the song’s early minutes before the anguished howl emerges, culminating in a throat-tearing, raw-spewing roar by its uncomfortable climax.

Then, ‘In Harm’s Way’ recreates the woozy two-chord grating attack of early Swans when they were at their most gut-churningly jarring and abrasive, and it hits hard.

So why remaster, and why now? What does it add? According to Steve Von Till, ‘We recorded this ourselves with consumer level Pro Tools back then, in order to be able to experiment at home in getting different sounds and writing spontaneously. The technology has come a long way since then and we thought we could run it through better digital to analog conversion… This new mastered version is a bit more open, with a better stereo image, and better final eq treatment’.

And because they got Bob Weston of Shellac, and engineer at Electrical Audio to work on it, it does sound bloody great and lands with maximum impact. And the new artwork’s rather nice, too.

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Neurosis and Jarboe

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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