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Swans - The Seer CD (album) cover

THE SEER

Swans

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.97 | 183 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Xonty
4 stars "The Seer" is the album that introduced me to Swans and remains, by a long shot, my favourite. After the release of its predecessor, the long awaited "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope In The Sky", the band impressed many of their old fans and welcomed some newcomers (like myself) with a new twist on their notably otherworldly signature sound. But it was "The Seer" that brought all of the elements together for me. Their latest release "To Be Kind" seems to be a little difficult for me to grasp (at least at the moment). While it does have its moments in songs like "Oxygen" and "Toussaint L'Overture", the lengthy improvisations feel more like filler than experimentalism. Perhaps they were afraid they might let their fans down with a shorter album? All I know is that the stars aligned perfectly for them on this one. "The Seer" therefore gets 4-stars, but extremely close to the "masterpiece" tier. For me, it would have to include more progressive flavours, but this would change the overall sound, so it's really a paradox. The album would achieve a 5-star rating as an experimental or avant-garde work though.

"Lunacy" kicks the 2-hour pilgrimage of an album off, with very well structured minimalistic approaches, piled on with multiple dissonant arrangements. The twangling dulcimers and guitar pulses intertwine beautifully, plus whatever the other instruments are. The regular sonic lifts really bring it to life in the intro, just before Michael Gira's vocals enter. Ultimately, there are some pretty catchy melodies and harmonies on here (for Swans at least). There is so much flying about through the repetitive rhythms, and is probably already the culmination of the album. A great acoustic coda too, with some haunting echoes. If this track really has no appeal to you whatsoever, I'd really recommend spending your next 2 hours listening to something else. Definitely continue with it if you've got enough time and patience.

"Mother Of The World" has a more demanding and adrenaline-filled rocking but constantly biting pulse. Almost like some sort of man-beast is running from a superior predator, teamed with the taunting free vocals laid on top. Very good passages near the end too, with the more luxurious arpeggios after such an intense beat, plus the droning vocals from Gira again. Another great track but not as impressive as the opener. "The Wolf" then acts as a short breather to get you back on your feet, making it a much needed track if its your first listen. Like many parts of "The Seer" the lyrics and delivery from the Swans' frontman is very intense and almost emotional, because of the strong empathy you feel for the characters that are almost suffering from the place where this music comes from. Also fits that excellent album cover very well, and includes some well-employed techniques.

The title track cuts you right off this with more transcendent "organised chaos". Feels very free and alive, maintaining the primal theme on "The Seer". There's so much to say about this 30-something minute track, but on the whole it creates a wonderful atmosphere and gives you an extremely unique musical experience - increasingly difficult to discover and indulge yourself into at length nowadays. It doesn't put you in a trance and doesn't give you some sort of musical out-of-body experience, because of its constant change. In a way, this is great, but it means it can become tiresome unlike other long-length works like Tangerine Dream's "Zeit". The band really use just about every musical technique, with the subtly shift of the dynamics and drones plus some unexpected chord progressions when you look beneath the surface. Sums up the album and even perhaps Swans approach to music and sound to an extent. In a strange way, you can think of "Lunacy" as the single, and "The Seer" as the more esoteric and adventurous masterpiece.

"The Seer Returns" immediately with a slightly more airy, psychedelic feel before returning to another plodding rhythm with droning improvisations poured on top. More twisted poetry again, with no huge significance, but sounds brilliant against the circling rigid block of guitars. A typical but terrifically constructed Swans song. "93 Ave. B Blues" is the weakest song on the album, with no definite direction or structure - just very intriguing. The 2 sort of balance each other out to create a mediocre Swans song. Overall, no real excitement and not totally essential to the album. Lets down some of the album's consistency for me. "The Daughter Brings The Water" is a superb end to side 1. Much more melodic than the previous track (another bit of good sequencing, more than necessary for such a long work). Nothing outstanding in terms of experiment or musicality, but just a sort of lullaby to put your mind at rest and prepares you for the next side.

"Song For A Warrior" is definitely an arcane gem of the 21st century, with the addition of Karen O on vocals. Pretty textbook stuff on how to make an emotional song (the lyrics, sinking guitar glissandos, and distant acoustics) but has a different charming aura, a little like "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea". At the end, it does grow to feel a little typical, but still very nice. "Avatar" is a little dull and a bit of an old trick. The constant ringing bells make it too broad for too long, making it a bit exhausting. The lyrics again seem somewhat off the mark, but on the whole good. Room for improvement. "A Piece Of The Sky" is a very atmospheric soundscape, and quite difficult to describe. The bells are put to good use on this track, as well as the monotonousness (:P). Well selected instruments, which is often under-appreciated when an artist is granted such freedom. You have to make your own boundaries, which is hard enough, but also making them work requires a real genius. The piece undergoes a few large changes to keep the listener from feeling less alienated, so quite a generous Swans song really. The melody on "Are you there?" is a fantastic relief from the erring-on-insane ramblings of Gira.

"The Apostate" is the final bang, with some incredibly strong and intense passages and themes. Certainly a fitting title when reading the lyrics, and the screams of the guitars seem to emanate a strangely fresh greyscale tone. Again, very lively, chaotic and dissonant, with a very enduring (torturing for some) sound that illustrates some sort of anger or frustration with it all, teamed with an apathetic mood given off by the prolonged cacophonous groans and jabs throughout the song. Not the best track, but certainly incredible in terms of improvisation, talents, and structuring. Another moment of magic captured and devastated by Swans' wall of crushing power. The aims and intentions, somehow fulfilled on "The Seer" is just astronomical. Swans seem to cover numerous genres in just 2 minutes, let alone 2 hours. The band's unique and experimental nature brought their discography onto ProgArchives, where I thankfully discovered their one-of-a-kind outlook on music. A remarkably high 4-star album.

B+: Why has no-one thought of this before?!

Lunacy: ***** Mother Of The World: **** The Wolf: ***** The Seer: ***** The Seer Returns: ***** 93 Ave. B Blues: *** The Daughter Brings The Water: **** Song For A Warrior: **** Avatar: **** A Piece Of The Sky: ***** The Apostate: *****

Xonty | 4/5 |

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