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Swans - Leaving Meaning CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.87 | 12 ratings

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4 stars On Bandcamp, Michael Gira writes that "I dissolved the line up 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." There are well known names such as Ben Frost, Anna von Hauswolff, the Necks, and actually every single official band member who played on the previous Glowing Man album among the collaborators. This sounds like another new approach for this band, who went through many different phases in their long existence, although their last three albums were a rather homogeneous trilogy.

Yet, leaving meaning clearly bears the hallmark of Swans' most characteristic feature at least in recent years, namely the shamanic approach using monotonous rhythms and conjuring meditative vocals that slowly build up to trance-like ecstatic states, speaking to deep ancient layers of our conscious and subconscious existence.

There is in fact also change. The approach on leaving meaning is less openly aggressive and heavy, somewhat slower and cleaner, and dominated by acoustic instruments. I was pondering whether to say "more relaxed" here; more relaxed than Seer/To Be Kind/Glowing Man it is, but the atmosphere is still tense and dark and many of the songs are still relentless and won't let the listener's attention go for one second; despite Swans' strong use of post rock elements like the straight rhythms, the slow build ups, and the absence of traditional song structures, this isn't music to relax and calm down, it is still tense and captivating. The songs here are no longer than 12 minutes (on the previous three albums they had some more than half hour tracks), but somehow many of these still have the same kind of "eternal" feel - surely they haven't started to rush through things.

The somewhat calmer approach leaves space for a rich yet subtle mostly acoustic sound spectrum (Hums, Annaline, The Nub). The Hanging Man, leaving meaning, and Sunfucker sound much closer to Seer-trilogy Swans (with which I'm absolutely fine actually, this trilogy is the highlight of the 2010s for me), but more acoustic, making for a more meditative atmosphere, which creates its own unique and convincing version of the shamanic trance mood evoked by Swans' music.

The first eight tracks of leaving meaning are a straight five stars masterpiece hands down. Unfortunately I have more difficulty connecting with the last four tracks. I respect that after more than one hour of extremely captivating music Gira doesn't call it a day but gives us something even different, at least hinting at more traditional "songs", or rather, in "Some New Things" (of all titles) at a clearer reprise of the more electric sound of the Seer trilogy that is otherwise absent here, but in shorter format. This is OK as an experiment, but to me these tracks come over as quite a bit more shallow than the first eight; some loose tentative messing around contrasting the pure magic that we got before, but then not really far enough from the earlier material to show anything like a proper new direction. This shouldn't of course stop you from buying and appreciating the album, but it makes me eventually go for just 4.3 stars here. Probably I'd have appreciated more to get track 1-8 as another 100% iconic release and the remaining four as a stand-alone EP.

This is the fifth release of Swans in the 2010s, and that's a lot of music; except the first one, which was a bit of a warm up. all of them have two CDs worth of material. It is also the fifth very strong release, cementing their rank as the best band of the decade, with some distance, in my view. Up to The Nub the album is total music, a spellbinding and deeply moving piece of shaman magic. Then there are some additions that I currently suspect of being rather forgettable, but anyway, feel the magic!

Lewian | 4/5 |


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