Swans – The Seer
The cover art to Swans’ 12th album–like the record itself–makes a credible argument that The Seer is probably better suited for a vinyl format.
It features a painting of a dog, presumably a Yorkshire Terrier, a small breed of canine that is small in stature and originally bred to kill rats in the clothing mills of England. They bark a lot, which makes them excellent alarmist and they have a tendency to have dental problems throughout their life.
The Yorkie on the cover of The Seer features Swans’ leader Michael Gira’s teeth drawn in the dog’s mouth. Flip the cover over and there is a picture of the dog’s anus in full view. I’m giving the artist (Simon Henwood) the benefit of the doubt by assuming that it is merely representative of the dog’s backside, not Gira’s.
How this particular breed relates to Gira is another matter for discussion. I don’t know the relevance or if it even if there is one. I just know that it’s disturbing and compelling at the same time, the same feelings you get from listening to The Seer. It’s a record that not only serves as the culmination of Gira’s thirty year career as a provocative noise monger, but one that qualifies as perhaps the best album you’ll hear this year.
That praise comes with the condition that you’ll have an open mind to tolerate epic lengths of sonic torture. The Seer isn’t for everyone, but the reality that Gira has accomplished something very special here needs to be relayed to every music lover, including the ones that will never enjoy endless moments of sonic drones and skull crushing accentuation.
This, perhaps, is the other reason The Seer is better suited for the vinyl format. At two hours in length, and with some songs running near the half-hour mark, you’ll need that simple act of taking the needle off the record to take a breath and compose yourself. This isn’t to suggest that all 120 minutes aren’t worth their weight, but to suggest that Gira’s dread is often the equivalent of enduring repeated blows to your optimism.
The Seer is not comprised entirely of his bag of confrontational brutality; there are moments of incredible beauty paced throughout this monolithic creature, and some of those moments come at the hand (or voice) of the album’s long cast of characters.
The most notable is “Song For A Warrior” featuring Karen O in a strategically placed spot, kicking off the record’s second half and providing a reprieve from the record’s primal first disc.
But perhaps the most beautiful is the “A Piece Of The Sky,” a nineteen-minute suite that begins with a crackling fire, develops into a nightmare chorale (featuring former member Jarobe scratching out the polyphonic drone), transforms into post-rock stomp before brilliantly segueing into a languid poetry shuffle where Gira delivers some of the best prose of the album.
It alternates, like most of the Swans most notable material, between the profane and profound. Gira points out the beauty in even the most conflicting of environments (“In the wind of my lung/In methane and in love/In petroleum plumes/There’s a floating slice of moon”).
The Seer is as abrasive as life itself, and how you chose to relate to its harsh realities is a matter of both taste and tolerance.
But If you’re familiar with Michael Gira’s past 30 years, and are willing to believe that he’s able to deliver the most complete and compelling work at nearly 60 years of age, then The Seer will show how this old dog’s bark is just as vicious as it has ever been.