Posts Tagged ‘Swans’

Young God / Mute 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

On receipt of the new Swans album, I posted on Facebook that I was ‘too excited to download it.’ This wasn’t sarcasm or bathos. The arrival of a new Swans album is always an event of no small magnitude, and with a certain sense of duty to deliver a review of a band I’ve revered my entire adult life comes a certain weight of responsibility to do justice. Swans have always been more than merely a band, standing as a sonic entity with almost infinite capacity to overwhelm. And they haven’t lost that.

Their last three studio albums, The Seer (2012), To Be Kind (2014) and The Glowing Man (2016) redefined epic and over their course took extended improvisational forms to a logical conclusion, each with a duration in the region of two hours.

Given the tone of Michael Gira’s statement about the end of the iteration of the band who produced these albums, Leaving Meaning brings two substantial surprises, the first being that many of the personnel from the previous incarnation remain present, and the second being the speed of its arrival. Kristof Hahn remains in the latest lineup, which also features eternal mainstay Norman Westberg – arguably as integral to the band as Gira himself – albeit only on some tracks, and Thor Harris, Phil Puleo, and Christopher Pravdica. They’re joined by an immense cast of contributors including The Necks, Baby Dee, Anna and Maria von Hausswolff, and Larry Mullins.

Leaving Meaning sees Gira take a slightly different and more openly collaborative approach to the realisation of his ideas, and it’s a more concise record in comparison to its predecessors. It’s all relative, of course, but in context, ninety-three minutes is concise.

Because of its sheer enormity, Leaving Meaning isn’t an album it’s entirely appropriate to dissect, and it’s constructed in such a way that it is very much best experienced as an album rather than dipped into. That means its effect is optimal when experienced in a single session, but that also means – as was the case to an even greater extent with its predecessors – that it requires a significant commitment of time in a time-pressured world. But then, Swans’ music has the capacity to lift the listener out of time and into another zone altogether.

The longer tracks are considerably shorter than even most off the shorter tracks on the last three albums, with the twelve-minute ‘The Nub’ being the album’s longest track.

Intro segment ‘Hums’ is appropriately-titled, consisting of just two minutes of cascading, hovering drones interwoven for create a soft ambience. ‘The Hanging Man’ revisits the nagging, dizzying cyclical bass motifs of numerous extended workouts from the last trilogy, and grinds it out for ten minutes. Anyone who’s familiar with the band’s extensive back-catalogue will be aware that this style of composition harks back to the band’s dawning and has remained a trademark of theirs, as well as Gira’s solo work. Paired with Gira’s vocal delivery, which switches from a monotone drone to a maniacal holler of elongated vowels and jabbering ululations and monosyllabic barks and yelps, it’s vintage Swans that threatens a climax around the mid-point but saves the real intensity for the finish. It’s less about volume than plain, bludgeoning repetition.

‘Amnesia’ is not the same ‘Amnesia’ as on 1992’s Love of Life. Perhaps Gira’s forgotten about it. It is, however, a brooding acoustic-led folk song. At heart. One of the things that constitutes a significant point of departure on Leaving Meaning is the return to sparser structures: gone are the immense sustained crescendos and pulverising explosions of discordant noise. There’s an altogether more mellow feel about Leaving Meaning. That said, there are orchestral and choral surges which punctuate both here and elsewhere.

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‘Sunfucker’ is another classic Swans composition built around endless repetition, and with its backing vocal chants serves as an apocalyptic counterpart to ‘I Am the Sun’ from The Great Annihilator. Tapering off to drones in the mid-section, it suddenly explodes into a stomping glam bash. It’s bewildering, unexpected, everything all at once and probably the most daring and adventurous thing Swans have recorded in their entire career.

‘The Nub’ is gloomily funeral. Ethereal, haunting, but ultimately bleak in mood; ‘Some New Things’ is mantric, looping, hypnotic, while ‘My Phantom Limb’, one of the album’s standouts, has stronger echoes of Greed-era’s tortured pounding. It sits at odds with the rest of the album, but then so much of the album sits at odds with itself it feels right in a perverse way.

So what do we take from this? More or less what we’ve take from Swans over the last thirty years: with their ever-shifting parameters but constant core focus and the creative vision of Michael Gira always the driving force, Swans never cease to evolve, but never cease to be Swans, and are immediately identifiable as Swans, however far out they go.

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Leaving Meaning is the fifteenth studio album for SWANS, the follow up to 2016’s The Glowing Man, and is due for release by Mute / Young God Records (N America) on 25th October 2019. Leaving Meaning will be released on double vinyl in a brown chipboard sleeve, double CD in a brown chipboard digipack and digitally.

Written and produced by Michael Gira, the album features contributions from recent and former Swans, members of Angels of Light as well as Guest Artists Anna and Maria von Hausswolff, Ben Frost, The Necks, Baby Dee, and a Hawk and a Hacksaw,

Michael Gira explains, “Leaving Meaning is the first Swans album to be released since I dissolved the lineup of musicians that constituted Swans from 2010 – 2017. Swans is now comprised of a revolving cast of musicians, selected for both their musical and personal character, chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I’d like to see the songs I’ve written presented. In collaboration with me, the musicians, through their personality, skill and taste, contribute greatly to the arrangement of the material. They’re all people whose work I admire and whose company I personally enjoy”.

Listen to the first track from the album, ‘It’s Coming It’s Real’ here:

In autumn, Michael Gira will be touring select cities on a solo tour with Norman Westberg. Swans will tour in the spring of 2020.

11 Oct – Skanu Mezs Festival – Riga, Latvia

13 Oct – Saint Petersburg, Russia

15 Oct – Moskva, Russia

18 Oct – Athina, Greece

19 Oct – Thessaloniki, Greece

23 Oct – Ljubljana, Slovenia

25 Oct – Bucharest, Romania

26 Oct – Cluj-napoca, Romania

28 Oct – Warsaw, Poland

29 Oct – Warsaw, Poland

31 Oct – Kyiv, Ukraine

1 Nov – Vilnius, Lithuania

2 Nov – Helsinki, Finland

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

30th April 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The last thing you’ll get from Whalesong is any ambient relaxation sound piece or ‘blue planet’ chillout. Formed a decade ago in Poland by Michal ‘Neithan’ Kielbasa and drawing on elements of industrial, no wave and drone, the ever-shifting collective have established a reputation for extreme weight and extreme volume.

Their third album, following on from Disorder (2017) and Disorder Deconstructed, features a stellar host of musicians Thor Harris (Swans, Wrekmeiste Harmonies, Xiu Xiu), Waclaw Vogg Kieltyka (Decapitated), Aleksander Papierz (Sigihl) and award-winning vibraphonist Tomasz Herisz. But ahead of the release of the double-disc Radiance of a Thousand Suns, they’re treating us to the Gateway EP, the title of which suggests it offers the listener an avenue, an opening, through which to pass to the album proper.

The twelve-minute title track begins with a slow, torturous industrial beat, a plodding trudge that sounds like sheet metal being hit with a sledgehammer. Extraneous noise hovers around, while the vocals, detached, inhuman, echo into the bleakness. And then the drone hits. It’s a dense, distorted, agonizing drone with the volume of a jet engine. Everything screams pain and anguish. And still that constant metallic thud crashes with metronomic regularity, and hammers into your brain. And it goes on forever. The effect is purgatorial, the relentlessness punishing. Sitting obediently on a bed of nails and brandishing a club alongside Swans circa 82-86, ‘Gateway’ is music for masochists at its very best.

Promising to display difference facets of the band on this release, ‘I Am Not Here’ (which may or may not be on some vinyl pressings) is lighter, a bright conglomeration of dulcimers, hanging bells and chiming percussion ring out in unison. Flickers of rhythm emerge from the rippling jangles, although there is no distinct form to be found here. Nothing really happens: it simply jingles along pleasantly, although with endless repetition eventually comes a sense of disquiet.

They’re not kidding when they say the vinyl release is limited: the hand-numbered 10" lathe cut vinyl, which comes in folded black art paper with ‘100% hand-made screen-printed silver metallic artwork’ featuring a picture by Michal Biel, and with packaging design and layout by Mentalporn’ comes in. transparent vinyl limited to 10 copies, some of which will have hidden bonus track on side B, while black vinyl is limited to just 1 copy.

Needless to say, these were sold out before I came to review the release, but at least there’s still the digital option….

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GATEWAY FRONT

Reunited NYC noise-rock royalty Live Skull have revealed new song "Up Against the Wall" – the song was written and recorded under the alias New Old Skull, as part of the "BC35" project honouring the legacy of producer Martin Bisi and his Brooklyn studio, BC Studio.

Stream the song here:

‘Up Against the Wall’ appears on BC35: Volume Two, the second instalment in the "BC35" series, due out April 19th on Bronson Recordings. In addition to New Old Skull (Live Skull), the album contains live performances of songs (some written, some improvised) by current and former members of Sonic Youth, Swans, Cop Shoot Cop, Blind Idiot God, Alice Donut, Lubricated Goat, and more.

Pre-order: https://bc35anniversary.bandcamp.com/album/bc35-volume-two-the-35-year-anniversary-of-bc-studio

Of the first "BC35" album, released last year, Pitchfork wrote: “The credits read like a who’s who of New York’s experimental underground… It’s a sonic embodiment of risk-taking, rule-breaking, and antithesis that celebrates the endurance of a man and a space tied directly to New York’s noise, art-rock, punk, free jazz, hip-hop, and alternative movements…”

With the release of "BC35: Volume Two" coming up, celebrating BC Studio and the ethic it represents, the future of the studio where Bisi has operated since the early 1980’s is unknown. A new rezoning proposal seeks to reshape the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, incentivizing residential development and tall buildings. Meanwhile, a grassroots push to landmark certain historic buildings, including the former factory where BC Studio is located, is in motion.

Bisi gave this statement to BrooklynVegan: “The looming rezoning feels like floodgates are about to burst. The City estimates 18,000 new residents, 8,200 new units. Their premise goes beyond the need for affordable housing, it’s based on the expectation of tens of thousands of jobs coming to NYC, and those people needing housing. It’s a vision similar to when the City wooed Amazon. Gentrification begets more gentrification. So the net shift will be grossly unaffordable. In carving out space for the arts in Gowanus, the rezoning encourages my building to expand, potentially up to 17 stories, to accommodate about 1,000 artists. My space was established at a time when I could utilize a large space, and I do, and depend on it. My fear is that I’m in the way of all this – that I could be sacrificed in the interest of a higher number of incoming artists, likely fairly affluent – and the character of the arts themselves gentrifying.”

BC35 Vol 2

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

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