Swans, The Seer
A double album that may be his bravest yet
Whether he’s conjuring up a quiet storm with an acoustic guitar or sharing the asphyxiated psalms of “Sex, God, Sex,” Michael Gira has never been the subtle type. That’s especially the case with the second coming of Gira’s iconic post-punk band Swans, which obliterated the notion of a cash-grab reunion with a series of resoundingly LOUD shows, and 2010′s uniformly excellent, AARP-be-damned album My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.
Now just two years away from turning 60, Gira has delivered a double album that may be his bravest release yet. Clearly the sound of someone who still doesn’t give a goddamn what you think, The Seer isn’t just a sprawling listen. It’s a record that just went off its meds, a striking, supremely challenging mix of manic melodies, endless experimentation, ritualistic drones and rigorous repetition.
Which is to say, it’s not for everyone. Aside from a couple palette cleansers (“The Daughter Brings the Water,” “The Wolf”) and a delicate duet with Karen O (“Song For a Warrior,” which recalls the Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer’s recent rock opera run), The Seer devotes most of its two-hour running time to destroying any semblance of sane songwriting. That goes for everything from the murderous chase scene that is “Mother of the World” to the way Alan and Mimi of Low chant “lunacy!” until the word really sinks in on the record’s opener. And then there’s the “A Piece of the Sky,” “Apostate” and the title track, a trio of EP-length epics that shift between showers of nihilistic noise, hypnotic vocals (including contributions from two key Gira collaborators, Akron/Family and former Swans member Jarboe), ominous orchestral parts, and unexplained phenomena (the “acoustic and synthetic” fire sounds of Ben Frost come to mind).
Amazing stuff — if you can make it to the other side without blowing your speakers.