|Personnel: Michael Gira (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, harmonica); Bill Rieflin (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, organ, synthesizer, bass guitar, drums, percussion); Christoph Hahn (vocals, electric guitar, lap steel guitar); Norman Westberg (vocals, electric guitar); Thor Harris (vocals, hammer dulcimer, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, drums, percussion); Phil Puleo (vocals, hammer dulcimer, drums, percussion); Christopher Pravdica (vocals, bass guitar); Kevin McMahon (electric guitar); Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiak (mandolin, electric mandolin, clarinet); Eszter Balint (violin); Jane Scarpatoni (cello); Cassis Staudt (accordion).
|Michael Gira claims that Swans' The Seer took 30 years to make: "it's the culmination of every previous Swans album as well as any other music I've ever made, been involved in or imagined." This is not hyperbole. Two years after My Father Will Lead Me Up to a Rope to the Sky, The Seer is the most sprawling, ambitious, thoughtfully conceived and tightly performed recording in the band's catalog -- also not hyperbole -- over two discs, two hours, and 11 tracks. And it is not an endurance test, but an argument for compulsive listening. It's an exquisitely wrought journey through post-rock, electronic soundscapes, haunting acoustic songs, punishing noise, and (lots of) percussion. While the extremes of Filth are rare here, their roots are clearly present, as is everything else, from Cop to White Light from the Mouth of Infinity to Soundtracks for the Blind to Angels of Light. The previous musical incarnations of Swans have been honed to sharpened points, carving new musical and sonic terrain from rock into an intensely focused whole. "Lunacy" opens it with tight, seamless repetition and builds to shattering crescendo as a prolonged introduction, before chanted vocals (Alan and Mimi from Low guest) enter. They eventually give way to open-ended, restrained instrumental explorations, creating a suite-like construction in just over six minutes. The 32-minute title cut uses every tool in the Swans arsenal like a hammer, from nearly maddening repetition and clattering dissonance to nuanced space; dynamics to multivalent, layered electronic textures. Its coda, the six-minute "The Seer Returns," features tribal, shuffling floor toms and bass drums. Former member Jarboe appears on the 19-minute "Piece of the Sky." After a long intro that includes field recordings and industrial noise, her hovering voice is multitracked in a wide-open, blissed-out drone before thundering post-rock and experimental drones eventually find Gira (with Jarboe backing) singing what may be the story of their partnership. Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, sings "Song for a Warrior," a gorgeous number that commences as a country waltz before opening onto a shimmering, nearly opulent instrumental terrain before gradually stripping its way back to even starker sonic folk terrain. It's Gira speaking through that feminine voice, offering his own statement of purpose and accepting its cost. Set closer, the 23-minute "Apostate," is Swans at their most punishing. Given its length, it takes its time getting there, but when the chaos and world-shaking begin, the band leans full-on into the abyss to deliver a nearly frightening conclusion; Gira employs the full range of his powerful voice in the heart of the maelstrom before a stampede of drums pushes the track out onto other side of oblivion. The Seer is unquestionably a work of ecstatic beauty; it encompasses everything because it is everything. It references the aesthetic developed by Swans, and moves it past current musical boundaries and onto a new sonic frontier, where they stand, as they have always stood, alone. ~ Thom Jurek