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Swans - Soundtracks For The Blind CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

4.12 | 85 ratings

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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars "Soundtracks for the Blind" is the 10th album from Swans, and, being released in 1996, was their last album before going on a lengthy hiatus. Their next album would not come about until 2010, and during that time, Michael Gira would go on to create the excellent, but mostly overlooked band "Angels of Light". However, SftB would be Swans final statement before this long hiatus, and in producing this huge double album, would be quite a huge statement. The album steps into Post Rock territory almost completely and moves away from the more gothic sound of the earlier 90's, and even further away from the sludge post-punk of even earlier.

Gira wanted this album to be like a soundtrack from a non-existent film. What it turned out to be was probably Swans most varied album ever. Part of the reason for this is that the album comes from many different sources through the years that Swans was in existence. He was interested in Brian Eno's sounds and the way he manipulated source material to create new songs and styles. He pared old Swans source material from previous recordings and added new material to that and claims that he just threw it all into a computer and assembled it into this album. At times, there are passages that are playing together that could be from two different decades. So, yeah, you can see why the styles on this album are so varied. Yet, somehow, he makes it all work.

Amongst these tracks, there are sound collages, field recordings, drones, huge lengthy tracks and many short ones, quite a mix, that makes up a total of 26 tracks and lasting well over 2 hours. And there are some real gems on here and its no wonder that after the release of this album, the interest in the band would grow over the time of their hiatus. Other reviewers have done track by track analyses, so it's not really expedient to do that here, even though, for an album like this, it is probably the best way to review it, since it is so varied.

The album really flows surprisingly well starting with an atmospheric instrumental, moving to a spooky, mostly spoken word, recording to the epic and excellent "Helpless Child". This one moves from the astoundingly beautiful to the disturbingly dissonant, remaining dark all the way through. It covers a lot of territory, from an almost minimalistic and pensive lyrical section to a hard and heavy section that is actually quite a study in restraint. This music can try the patience of many listeners, and that is what it is doing as a post-rock style of music, it takes it's time, not wanting to rush to its climactic conclusion, but to build on it slowly and evenly, making a 15 minute track based on anticipation. When the Swans came back in 2010, they would use this formula to its extremes, mixing long soundscapes with shorter tracks, and end up establishing themselves as true progressive artists. These songs on this album are their first big steps to that.

The songs can also mess with your emotions, mixing a sparse and apocolyptic array of instrumental darkness with the loop of a child singing happily in "Beautiful Days". There is also the electronically enhanced sounds that manage to mix a rave-up sound with Jerboe's singing brightly off beat on "Volcano" with a melody that should mix well with the constant thump of the drums, but is strangely off kilter. As the album rolls on, there are tracks that are very experimental and sound nothing like Swans have ever sounded in the past, and yes, the influence of Brian Eno is there in the low minimal sections and in the harsh and almost industrial passages, as in the extreme contrasts evident in "All Lined Up". In the meantime, "Animus" tips even the post-punk world on its ear, almost like the polar opposite of "Cop" even though it's still in the key of "sludge" but surprisingly minimal and noisy at the same time.

The 2nd disc continues in the same experimental vein as the first. "The Sound", another epic 13 minute track moves along slowly and pensively with Michael's slow singing accompanied by layered synths and sparse percussion and bass making it sound like a theme from an old western movie. The music becomes denser as it moves along until layers of grungy guitars and crashing cymbals overpower everything else. It's not until the 10 minute mark that we get a reprieve from the heaviness when it all returns to the minimal sound again with indiscernable vocals. As with the first disc, there is quite a variety of sounds and styles here, but you also hear the Eno influences in the interesting collages, spoeken word recordings, the mixing and layering of recordings and etc. Probably the most unexpected sounds here are the ones that involve Jerboe's vocals. There is some very odd experimentation here, sometimes using her voice like in "Hypogirl" and her startling delivery. The odd and yet intriguing collection of tracks culminates in "The Final Sacrifice", which is recorded live and eventually brings in the most emotion of any of the tracks.

The album is one of Swans most versatile albums, with a lot of experimentation, drone-like passages, post-rock styles, and so on. Overall, the collective feel is quite dark, as is probably expected, eeire, pensive and most of all, inventive. Just like me though, there are some of these tracks that you'll find quite appealing while others will just absolutely rub you the wrong way and you might even find irritating. But Swans never were here to make music that everyone would understand, and this album was quite a statement for what was the last we would hear from the band for a while. In the end, though, I am always intrigued by this album, and find enough here to merit a 4 star rating.

TCat | 4/5 |


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