Posts Tagged ‘Swans’

Solemn Wave Records – 6th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

We’re inching into winter and again my inbox seems to be getting darker and gothier in its content – or perhaps it’s just my SAD-attuned headspace. Either way, this is one extremely welcome arrival.

As a prelude to the album ‘Black Light, White Dark’, Evi Vine have given us ‘Sabbath’ as a single release, featuring The Cure’s Simon Gallup on bass, along with guitar by Peter Yates of Fields of the Nephilim. It’s a slow burner, and it’s epic and then some: fully nine brooding minutes of slow, smouldering atmosphere and hauntingly evocative melodies which burst into dazzlingly kaleidoscopic curtains of sound.

It’s one of those songs that lures you in with its grace and delicacy: Evi’s nuanced, emotionally rich and moving vocal, reminiscent by turns of Jarboe, Chelsea Wolfe and – perhaps at a short stretch – Julianne Reagan (she can swoop and soar, and I suspect her choice as backing singer by The Mission is no coincidence) is alluring, ethereal, simultaneously creating a sense of vulnerability and otherness. And as the sonic storm swells into a dense and richly-layered mass, the effect is intensified, until finally, the surging sound is all there is… nine minutes simply isn’t enough. Allowing the hypnotic bass and deliberate groove to take over and transport me downstream as the guitars build and build, deeper, louder, more and more, until I’m drifting, I find this is a song to loop, and loop…

The six-minute single edit is even more not long enough, and probably isn’t short enough to get much radio play either – even though it absolutely deserves all the audience it can reach. The fact mainstream audiences aren’t likely equipped to handle the intensity is their loss, but also a sad reflection on things. Because this is music to embrace, and be blown way by.

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Evi Vine

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Uneasy listening trio Under have unveiled their new video for latest single ‘Malcontent’.

When asked on the theme behind the song, the band stated: “Andy (Preece – drums, vocals) came up with this suitably grinding, droning riff while bored out of his mind waiting outside a changing room. As we arranged the overall tine, adding Mayo’s signature noise and our usual uneasy rhythmic approach, we tried to accentuate that feeling of anxious horror and discomfort as much as we could. To reflect this feeling I wrote the lyrics to invoke that sickly desperation apparent in anybody hungry for power.

Their new album, Stop Being Naïve, is available now from APF Records.

Under are a trio from Stockport, Greater Manchester. Formed in 2016. Though rooted in the blueprints of Sludge and Doom Metal, their sound is harder to pin down with elements of Prog, Noise and Avant Garde creeping in. Under play with jagged, slow, off kilter riffs that tease the listener into a false sense of security with dark and abstract lyricism evoking a trippy and sinister unease. The trio cite the likes of Swans, Mr. Bungle, The Melvins and Radiohead as prime influences.

Watch the video for ‘Malcontent’ here:

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Under Oct 2018

Room40 – RM481 – 13th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Norman Westberg’s first full-length album since the termination of SWANS in its most recent configuration marks something of a departure, both in terms of sound and approach. Having previously recorded his solo works by what he calls his ‘one take; it is what it is’ method, After Vacation is a project of evolution, and also of collaboration, with Lawrence English acting as producer, weaving together the parts to create rich layers. The press release refers to Westberg’s ‘web of outboard processes, with delays, reverbs, and other treatments all transforming the sound of the instrument’s output. And yet After Vacation feels like so much more than this, as the guitar itself fades into the distance beneath the effects. The results are evocative, with careful details overlaid onto the broad washes of sound which define the compositional forms.

The album begins in expansive and haunting style, with what sounds like brooding, atmospheric orchestral strings and tense piano, but the shadowy shade of ‘Soothe the String’, like all of the album’s six pieces, features nothing but guitar. And with it Westberg creates lustrous layers of sound, drifting sonic mists and hazy hues. ‘Sliding Sledding’ forms an immensely deep, slow-turning swirl that moves like vapour, through which single notes ripple as they echo and fade.

The individual compositions are formed through subtle shifts and delicate transitions, and offer distinct and separate moods. However, they melt into one another, to create a vast vista of soft-edged ambience.

The title track which draws the curtain on the set marks a departure from the rest of the album, as Westberg picks at his guitar in an almost folksy fashion, and it sounds like a conventional guitar, although it’s accompanied by an organ-like drone that hovers in a long, unchanging note, which gradually rises to the fore as the plucked notes fade into the distance.

There’s a certain comfort in this conclusion, bringing the listener as it does to more familiar ‘guitar’ territory while still emblematising the experimental, treatment-orientated approach to reconfiguring the sound of the instrument.

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Norman Westberg - After Vacation

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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Living Music Duplication – 17th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor Harris continues to keep himself more than vaguely occupied in the post-Swans era, and also continues to demonstrate just what a versatile percussionist he is. The collective, centred around Harris, who not only contributes diverse and eclectic percussion, but also wind instruments including some of his own devising. features at its core, Peggy Ghorbani on marimba, and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano.

Anyone on the market for Swans-style brutal percussive bludgeoning should leave now. Thor and Friends are pitched as an ‘avant-chamber ensemble’, drawing on ‘the classic Minimalist composers including Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but also amalgamate such diverse influences as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Moondog and The Necks around a polyrhythmic core of mallet-struck instruments, primarily marimba, xylophone and vibraphone’.

There’s a lighthearted, skipping melodic heart beating beneath the eddying synths and weirdy whistles and subtle strings which are all interwoven into one another on the hypnotic and ever-shifting ’90 Metres’. Ominous and eerie tones and echo-heavy chimes dominate both ‘Creepy Carpets’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, while elsewhere, ‘Mouse Mouse’ explores a more playful side, manifesting as a sing-sing tune that has an almost nursery rhyme / lullaby feel to it.

In the fucked-up, brutal world in which we find ourselves, where it’s everyone for themselves while each and every citizen is shafted by governments and multinationals and consumerism, kindness does feel subversive. And in their own quiet way, Thor and Friends offer their own subversive resistance. It’s a gentle, mellifluous collection of compositions which are neither overtly contemporary nor steeped in traditionalism. It’s this sense that the music exists out of any place in time, and that it doesn’t obviously connote any concrete physical space that makes it so very appealing.

Thor and Friends

Gizeh Records – 10th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is certainly quite the collaborative lineup, featuring as it does Aidan Baker (Nadja / Caudal / B/B/S/), Simon Goff (Molecular, Bee & Flower), and Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Thor & Friends). What renders Noplace all the more impressive is that it’s an improvised work, recorded in a single day.

As the press release recounts, ‘having known each other for a number of years and previously contributed to one another’s recordings this trio finally came together as a whole on May 7th 2017 at Redrum Studios in Berlin. In a short, improvised session of just a few hours they set about laying down as much material as possible which was then subsequently edited and re-worked (without overdubs) to form this album.’ And the results are quite something, and I very quickly manage to put aside the thought that the cover art reminds me of the film Up, minus the balloons.

Rippling strings quaver over softly swelling undercurrents while rolling percussion provides a subtle, unobtrusive rhythm as ‘Noplace I’ introduces the album before creeping into the darkness f counterpart piece ‘Noplace II’. And yet it’s very much only the beginning: having been moulded post-recording, the album’s seven individual pieces are structured and sequenced so as to lead the listener on an immersive journey which gradually and subtly moves from one place to entirely another.

‘Red Robin’ builds a pulsating, looping groove overlaid with creeping stealth. Its repetitious motif may owe something to the hypnotic cyclical forms of Swans, but its trance-inducing sonic sprawl also alludes to a hypnogogic reimagining of dance music – and this filters into the spacious ‘Noplace III’, which draws together expansive ambience and, in the distance, shuffling, tranced-out beats, to create something that stands in strange, murky Krautrock / dance territory. Yes, it sounds electronic. Yes, it sounds unique, but at the same time, yes, it sounds familiar in terms of the individual genre tropes. It’s ‘place’ is precisely ‘noplace,’ in that it belongs nowhere specific, yet appeals on many different levels and in many different ways.

Interweaving motifs continue to feature in ‘Tin Chapel,’, but the rhythm here is much more prominent, a weighty four-four bass/snare beat driving a linear road through the sweeping, strings that glide from mournful to tense. The locked-in psyche-hued desert rock bass groove pushes the piece forwards, while at the same time holding it firmly in one place. In turn, it tapers into the bleak, murky expanse that is ‘Northplace’.

The final composition, ‘Nighplace’, brings things down and almost full circle as the percussion retreats into the background amidst a wash of elongated drones which ebb and flow softly.

Noplace certainly doesn’t feel improvised, and while it’s remarkably cohesive, as well as possessing a strong sense of structure, it also reveals a remarkable range, both sonically and compositionally. And irrespective of any context, it’s an engaging and immersive aural experience.

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