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Swans Soundtracks for the Blind album cover
4.27 | 126 ratings | 7 reviews | 54% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Studio Album, released in 1996

Songs / Tracks Listing

CD 1 - Silver (72:14)
1. Red Velvet Corridor (3:04)
2. I Was a Prisoner in Your Skull (6:39)
3. Helpless Child (15:47)
4. Live Through Me (2:31)
5. Yum-Yab Killers (5:07)
6. The Beautiful Days (7:49)
7. Volcano (5:19)
8. Mellothumb (2:45)
9. All Lined Up (4:48)
10. Surrogate (1:51)
11. How They Suffer (5:52)
12. Animus (10:42)

CD 2 - Copper (69:23)
1. Red Velvet Wound (2:02)
2. The Sound (13:11)
3. Her Mouth Is Filled with Honey (3:18)
4. Blood Section (2:39)
5. Hypogirl (2:44)
6. Minus Something (4:14)
7. Empathy (6:45)
8. I Love You This Much (7:23)
9. YRP (7:46)
10. Fan's Lament (1:28)
11. Secret Friends (3:08)
12. The Final Sacrifice (10:27)
13. YRP 2 (2:09)
14. Surrogate Drone (2:09)

Total Time 141:37

Line-up / Musicians

- Michael Gira / vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, "sounds", sampler, loops, producer
- (Jane) Jarboe / vocals, keyboards, "sounds", loops

- Norman Westberg / electric guitar
- Clinton Steele / electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drone guitar
- Christoph Hahn / guitars
- Mark Pankler "Vudi" / acoustic & electric guitars
- Joe Goldring / bass, guitar
- Algis Kizys / bass
- Larry Mullins / drums & percussion, vibes
- Bill Rieflin / drums & percussion, 12-string acoustic guitar, sounds
- Kris Force / viola (1.12,2.9)
- Larry Lame / ?

Releases information

Artwork: P.M. Froehle with Michael Gira (design)

2CD Young God Records ‎- YGCD 010 (1996, UK)

Thanks to The Truth for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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SWANS Soundtracks for the Blind ratings distribution

(126 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(54%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(30%)
Good, but non-essential (10%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

SWANS Soundtracks for the Blind reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Swans is the group led by composer/producer Michael Gira who have been creating some of the most interesting experimental rock music of the last 30 years. Starting out as a part of the 'No Wave' scene of the early 1980s, they originally created post-punk, industrial and noise rock. Beginning with their 1987 album Children Of God the band started to mellow out a bit with folky elements and more subdued vocals. They changed their approach yet again with this album, their last until they reformed again in 2010.

Inspired by listening to Brian Eno the album was conceived as a 'soundtrack for a non- existent film'. Gira and longtime partner/vocalist Jarboe created some of the loops and sounds way back in 1981 and 1985; the rest of the music was recorded in 1995/96. Some of it was recorded live and some of it in the studio, sometimes mixed together Zappa-style. The music here was the most varied and experimental Swans had yet done up to this point. What makes this particular double-CD release interesting is the fact that it predates the kind of crescendo building cinematic post-rock that became more prevalent years later.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! comes to mind with the vocal samples and overall gloomy atmosphere. Although a lot of later post-rock has a similar vibe to some of this album, when this was actually put together most "post-rock" bands of the time were doing a Krautrock/dub/fusion hybrid very different from the kind of music GYBE, Mogwai and Sigur Ros would later make. Some of the vocal samples were taken from surveillance tapes Jarboe got from her father who was an ex-FBI agent. Others are supposedly of Michael's father. The main difference between this album and earlier Swans releases is that up to this point their music was vocal/lyrics oriented; here they make lots of room for instrumental excursions.

This is a long album and the track times range from 1 1/2 minutes to almost 16. "I Was A Prisoner In Your Skull" sounds like what GYBE would between 1997-2000. Including pummeling, militaristic drumming and oddball vocal samples, in this case a man describing how "f---d up" an unnamed person is with some kind of weird ambient backing. "Helpless Child" is a reworking of an earlier song. It's the third track but first with actual vocals. It starts off in Swans-style folky/ballad territory. After 8 minutes begins some electric guitar strums and lovely vibraphone. Then slow-paced pounding drums enter and shortly after some symphonic organ which adds to the slow-building crescendo already under way. The electric guitar proceeds to get an almost metal-like crunch to it while the organ playing becomes more predominant and busy. Then everything settles down.

"Live Through Me" opens with some hypnotic backwards loops (on organ?) before fast strummed acoustic guitar leads this drumless instrumental. Some guitar arpeggios to end it. "Yum-Yab Killers" is a rough sounding live performance based on the song "Yum-Yab" from a Jarboe solo album. This is Swans in post-punk style. "The Beautiful Days" opens with waves of atmospheric guitar distortion. Looped choir-like sounds lay the foundation for more atmospheric and spacey sounds. Then a recording of a child singing (also looped and faded in and out). More vocal samples at the end, this time a woman who's voice is slowed down. Such a beautiful and mysterious track.

"Volcano" sounds like a parody of the 'dance music' that was popular at the time. Sung by Jarboe and based on a programmed beat which is played backwards half the time. "All Lined Up" starts out as a weird sounding track with Gira's altered vocals (except for his background wordless vocals). Then out of nowhere goes into GYBE-style crescendo territory before abruptly going back to the earlier section. Both sections alternate twice. "Animus" opens with sound effects, acoustic guitar picking, dreamy keyboard sounds and Gira's vocals in folky/ballad style. Stays in this territory while other instruments (notably violin) are added. Halfway guitar distortion, more strings and random tom-tom hits takes the music in a different direction entirely.

"The Sound" is one of the standout tracks. Subdued strings, tremoloed guitar and vibes create an atmosphere for Gira's mournful vocals. Accordion and/or harmonium as well as almost random subdued tom-toms add to the atmosphere. After 4 minutes begins the first crescendo with guitar chords and cymbal smashing. Around 7 1/2 minutes switches to another crescendo - this time with repetitive organ and an overall GYBE-before-GYBE sound. After 10 minutes goes back to the beginning section but now the vocals are more intense. "Blood Section" is perhaps the most 'normal' sounding song here. However, this track is instrumental and sounds like then current alternative rock (but oddly the kind from the UK not the US).

"Hypogirl" is a weird avant-folk track with Jarboe on vocals. "Empathy" is another fairly straight-forward track which occasionally has a Mogwai-before-Mogwai vibe to it. "YRP" has Jarboe's spoken-word vocals over music which sounds similar to GYBE at their most mellow and subdued. Then the music can't decide whether it wants to build a crescendo or not. Then it decides that it indeed wants to build one...just not very dramatic or heavy of one. "The Final Sacrifice" is similar to both "Animus" and "The Sound" but there is no crescendos. Instead, Gira's vocals occasionally get loud and intense. Applause at the end. "YRP 2" sounds like the climax to a crescendo already in progress. Of all the songs here this one sounds the most like 1980s Swans.

A lot of music here and it may not be the most consistent album ever released, but a lot of ideas and effort went into its creation. Yet, it still sounds raw and spontaneous. A lot of music over the past 15 years sounds similar but there was nothing that sounded like this when it came out. The people most surprised by this album were probably Swans fans. It's hard to say who to recommend this to. If you enjoy GYBE and the offshoot A Silver Mt Zion you will most likely enjoy this album as well. The next two albums are in a similar vein but if anything they are actually more refined. Not a 'masterpiece' but highly recommended. 4 stars.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars Michael Gira had already decided to disband SWANS and this was to be their final album with a farewell tour to follow. He certainly decided they would go out with a bang as this is almost 2 1/2 hours long and about as ambitious a release as I've heard. As far as being influential there are so many Post-Rock bands that point to this album as being their inspiration. This is also the highest rated SWANS album on RYM. Whereas GY!BE's early albums were apocalyptic with the end of the World being the theme, "Soundtracks For The Blind" comes off as being an album that looks deep into the human condition and all the darkness that comes with it. I'm not sure which is more frightening to be honest. This is a dark, experimental, disturbing, chilling work that will leave a mark on you. The line "Filthy with remorse" for some reason sums up a lot of what is on here for me. There are lots of loops, samples and spoken words including many recorded with a hand-held cassette recorder. All of what SWANS had recorded up to this point seems to be touched upon in some measure. Of course this would prove not to be their final album as it was very successful.

Disc one is titled "Silver" and opens with "Red Velvet Corridor" which is an interesting song to start with as we get a soundscape that is electronic-like with no vocals. "I Was A Prisoner In Your Skull" continues with that style until manipulated vocals on a loop arrive. The drums join in and build and the vocals fade. Great sound here. A calm after 3 minutes then spoken words come in that make me laugh. Creepy music joins in a minute later as he continues to speak. "Helpless Child" has this dark and haunting soundscape to start although it does brighten. Reserved vocals 3 minutes in. This is laid back and melancholic. Vocals stop 7 minutes in and the soundscape turns more adventerous. Strummed guitar and organ dominate. Drums after 9 minutes as it starts to build. I like the guitar off in the distance late.

"Live Through Me" is a track I really like, very electronic sounding with strummed guitar a minute in. "Yum-Yab Killers" doesn't even sound like the same band with those Punk-like female vocals from Jarboe and that catchy sound. "The Beautiful Days" features another dark and inventive soundscape. I just love listening to this with the headphones on. So much going on here that plays with my imagination. A child's voice comes in that's on a loop around 3 1/2 minutes. This will stop but come back later. A haunting soundscape takes over late. Spoken words 7 minutes in that are disturbing. "Volcano" is my least favourite song on here. Female vocals with uptempo drumming and pulsating sounds. Just not a fan at all. It's so out of place.

"Mellothumb" has so much atmosphere it's suffocating. I love it! Intensity before 2 minutes. "All Lined Up" opens with what sounds like field recordings on a loop as other sounds join in. Spoken words a minute in then it kicks in hard as these contrasts continue. "Surrogate" is a short piece with some beautiful sounds. "How They Suffer" opens with a chaotic soundscape before Gira's dad comes in speaking about being legally blind, it ends with Jarboe's mom talking about her health issues. "Animus" ends disc one with some beautiful guitar and keys that echo. Reserved vocals arrive that are sad but meaningful. A change 5 1/2 minutes in as the soundscape starts to drown the vocals.

Disc 2 is called "Copper" and it begins with "Red Velvet Wound". Female vocals and a restrained but catchy melody all start to deconstruct before a minute into a experimental soundscape. She stops singing late. "The Sound" is such an influential track to the Post-Rock genre. A psychedelic and relaxed intro with sounds that echo before reserved vocals arrive around 2 minutes. The vocals stop 4 minutes in as the sound becomes more dynamic. Just kicking ass as this continues to build. Suddenly a calm arrives 10 minutes in as we get that opening theme back and the vocals return. "Her mouth Is Filled With Honey" has strange noises and what sounds like an alarm going off. Samples join in. The alarm stops around 1 1/2 minutes as strange noises continue and spoken words arrive. A dark and eerie ending to this one.

"Blood Section" is a catchy instrumental of guitar and drums mostly. "Hypogirl" opens with a demonic scream from Jarboe as she then starts to pretty much speak the lyrics as the guitar is strummed. Not a fan of this one. "Minus Something" has such a cool soundscape as these spoken words arrive that make me smile. Man that is a creepy sound. He stops talking 2 minutes in as the dark soundscape continues. "Empathy" has a slow and mellow sound as reserved vocals arrive speaking the words. When he stops 3 minutes in the music becomes louder but then it calms right down before 4 minutes. Vocals are back a minute later in this dirge-like piece. "I Love You This Much" has a freaky but cool sounding soundscape with all these inventive sounds. It turns almost confusing 3 minutes in like someone on acid not knowing what's going on.

"YRP" has these strange and manipulated vocal sounds to start. A dark and minimalistic sound then takes over as spoken female words arrive after 1 1/2 minutes. She's singing before 3 minutes then she speaks again. Depressing and hopeless words including vocal melodies. Some heaviness after 6 minutes after she says "I'm your property". "Fans Lament" is almost upbeat as we get strummed guitar and drums as male vocal melodies join in. "Secret Friends" opens with what sounds like organ that echoes for about a minute then strummed guitar takes over as vocal melodies join in briefly. "The Final Sacrifice" is a live tune. Keys, percussion, bass and more to start in this laid back and melancholic track. It's building around 2 minutes then these deep male vocals arrive 3 1/2 minutes in. Lots of emotion in these vocals at 6 minutes and especially at 8 1/2 minutes. "YRP2"sounds great to start as some yells arrive that will make your hair standup. "Surrogate Drone" has lots of drones.

I'd love to edit this down to one disc as it would be a five star recording but it is what it is, almost 2 1/2 hours of music that while innovative and influential, it still has it's flaws. A solid 4 stars.

Review by Warthur
4 stars With snatches of found audio and occasional moments of punkish intensity emerging from the depths of a sinister ambient post-rock landscape, Swans' Soundtracks For the Blind is a daunting musical prospect which cries out for multiple listens to unpack its many mysteries. The final statement's of the band's original incarnation before they entered a period of hiatus, it sees the group's sound building on the comprehensive sonic recalibration of The Great Annihilator and moving it in a more experimental direction, with the band's post-punk and noise rock roots by now visible mostly in the form of attitude rather than actual sonic features.
Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
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.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Review #119! To put this in words that any well-versed prog fan can understand, the music on 'Soundtracks for the Blind' is like a mixture of The Residents and Klaus Schulze. The Residents for their powerful ability to scare anyone through music and vocals and Klaus Schulze for his use o ... (read more)

Report this review (#2932929) | Posted by Boi_da_boi_124 | Tuesday, June 13, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Now you be the mother... And I'll be your fool... I'll hide myself deep inside... Your crimson pool... While it's obvious that this is not only Swans' breakthrough album, but one of their all-time masterpieces, it's safe to say that it's far from being accessible in the slightest: 140 minut ... (read more)

Report this review (#2710231) | Posted by Nhelv | Tuesday, March 15, 2022 | Review Permanlink

5 stars An absolute masterpiece of Post-Rock. With over two hours of genre defining music, Soundtracks For The Blind isn't just a record that aged incredibly well, but also one that still remains as one of the best works of Post-Rock. You will find lots of droning as well as hypnotic instrumental tracks wit ... (read more)

Report this review (#2693840) | Posted by Isaac Peretz | Saturday, February 19, 2022 | Review Permanlink

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