The gothic-rock entourages of Swans would further continue with Love of Life (1992, Young God). This particular album is peppered with all of these unnamed tracks with names the shape of the front view of a bullet train, a simple “(---)” visible. The first of these open up the album by supplying an orgy of chimes shuffling along like shattered glass right before Love of Life crashes into view. The guitars don’t hesitate to swipe as the tone keeps an uncannily chin-up-high mood whilst the repetition buries itself with the lyrics its sole ambassador. The generally apocalyptic motif is kept equally intact whilst the song performs its damndest to be a remotely interesting opener. The drum snare specifically sounds like clapping slapped out of position, one of the least appropriate drum sounds for a song that begs to be this pounding. It ends sooner than can be registered, the four-minute opening condensed into a likely forty seconds courtesy of the listener’s memory. Whether those forty seconds were worth it is up to whoever bears such ears.
The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By the Sea has its act together for a little longer, the drum sound already improved. Gira’s vocals may be slightly overwhelmed, but it isn’t forced out of position. The slight vocal effects that occasionally funnel along here and there do tend to build onto an illusion favouring that concept, however. The textural experience, the keyboard and guitar work, they feel a little weaker than the previous cut. White Light From the Mouth of Infinity was already not all that interesting by itself, which makes me cautious as to what results this album will bear. There exists few things to cling onto and indulge within this song, and it’ll likely require prayer to keep the rest of the album from that flaw. The next two untitled tracks, however, shine on us the prospect of a much better album. Where drones dominate the former, the latter is given suspiciously pleasant background and spoken word that indulges in a very specific flavour in which Swans is a primary exporter of: very slightly unsettling, peeping into a moment in time and space that you were never welcome to witness but stumbled upon nonetheless, as if a memory vault.
Reverberated drums gently spiced with the more noticeable echo of Joy Division in The Other Side of the World let Jarboe take center stage. The vocals aren’t the sort to aspire for a squandering, abiding as a transporter into its world rather than said world’s epicenter. The atmosphere seems to be enlightened by boundlessness, gleaming off of every damned corner of the head, said glimmering tends to be pleasant regardless of the purgatory the song enlists. It’s above all else, a paragon of decent gothic rock. Her begins much softer, and continues along much more gently as the more “formal” lyricism of the song is phased out, lulling the listener in before letting its diet Pandora’s Box gape open, the prayer of a pitcher plant bringing the promise of a decent grab of grub to let the listener crawl closer until it’s too late. Then, we’re found in an oddly hopeful spoken word passage. It doesn’t quite strike me as a threat, and that’s fine. A slight issue is how it follows a rather contrasting pseudo-barrage where it doesn’t quite achieve a probable compatibility. How about we peep The Sound of Freedom? Sounds special.
It keeps a more hopeful alt-rock leaning present, a tone much more reminiscent of bliss and the ideals of being unfettered and unkempt in presence and in existence. The slight clattering of the drums is something almost omnipresent in Swans’ more boring compositions, the vocals lost in lush jargons, the progression squandered by repetition rather than nurtured by it, equally reminiscent. It threatens to end at any second, and there comes a point where one wishes it ended just a little sooner. The fourth untitled is unnecessary studio clamour.
Amnesia has very slight electronic drum usage, from what I deduce, and kept in an equally (yet impressively) uninteresting plateau similar to where The Sound of Freedom settled. There’s a slight touch of more edge to the guitar, but there’s something completely void here. And it’s not in a good, conceptually compelling fashion. There’s, not quite uncannily, something wrong, and from this point onward, the fact that there was something deeply wrong in their songwriting became undeniable. From Children of God to this, a dry spell is noticeable. Let’s look at the martial gothic vigours of Identity to see if that concept still applies. We have that washed out (if not, drowned) piano, the awkwardly repetitive drum work, the equally objectively uncomfortable effects occasionally applied to the backing voices, and this utterly piece of shit spoken word as read from a child. There seems to be this keyboard that operates in a higher octave than the rest of the instrumental, which only becomes a harping discomfort, an unpleasant intrusion of the composition. And the spoken word courtesy of that kid just doesn’t relent, too. This is not a drug-ridden mistake, I can smell how sober of a mistake this was. And just to apply salt to the wound and wax the skin right off immediately afterwards (before applying more seasoning as if you’re part of the fantasies present within some later songs), it simply meanders on and on until it whimpers out of existence shamefully.
The fifth untitled track bounces between the whimsical, the unsettling, the desolate and the toy-decorated effortlessly. This single minute completely outclasses the previous song. In the Eyes of Nature follows the same trend of drab, sludge-flavoured songwriting that is not repetitive as it is simply stubborn, and an equally tiresome vocal style that sits at a plateau of being simply uninteresting compared to virtually any other album they have done (although I have my reservations about White Light). The piano and drums add another layer of tar and bullshit to the mix the keyboards try their damndest to decontaminate the premises, the fake apocalypse at hand seeming like nothing more than a sham whilst failed ferocity and impatience run rampant like drug-addicted Pied Pipers. She Cries (For Spider) attains more manageable acoustics, but fails to contribute to the decontamination process of the keyboards despite the piano contributing a little more than just another trickle down the pond (and whatever is present to cause significant waves, like the drums, simply shouldn’t be there). Thankfully, more ripples are produced thanks to the quite appropriately handled backing vocals, although said ripples and especially said song goes on for longer than desired.
God Loves America is a more pleasant break in terms of the premise it provides, something much more heavy. This time, we’re painting our special little Armageddon using only the workings of the United States. Heavy industry, resource exploitation, shit like that. Everyone likes a good criticism and/or denunciation. Sure, the instrumentation is about as weak as the poetry at hand here, but that slightly well-placed clatter and flourish into full-on cataclysmic fervour helps balance things out just a little bit better than most of the songs on here. Yet regardless, it still feels weak overall, despite being very close to being a saving grace.
Actually, wait. Upon further contemplation, wouldn’t the sixth untitled track provide that saving grace, much like a significant portion of the untitled tracks within this album? Sure, it sounds like an avant-afterthought, but its world is infinitely more compelling within a matter of 80 seconds than these four-minute trods. The suspended, simple spoken word, the orgy of wails from what may as well be animals experiencing agony within inches of their lives, and the clattering of it all as if it’s an infernal mating call as portrayed by damned soles and damned souls. Why am I constantly being teased with a much more interesting album? Might be a case of ol’ concrete sound.
No Cure for the Lonely has a very slight ambience of record fuzz and decay that supplies a stronger ambience than any keyboard or synth work within this album. The acoustic guitar and Gira’s voice slides and cruises along the dilapidation of this little dud’s ruins. There’s defeat here, intimate resignation, and rejection of the self and its own little offscreen superstitions. Hell, I wouldn’t mind if it lasted five minutes instead of three. Then again, good neofolk is something this album does not barter with.
What a tease. This album provides a different experience than what can be witnessed within the works of this band’s career that came before, and after it. This experience would involve praying that it gets good, being shown a snippet of a different universe in which the album becomes both good and interesting, and such a universe being ripped away from you as you are once again forced several tons of vapid gothic prophecies down your gullible gullet. Sure, this is an era of the band where they’ve only just started scratching the potential of making great albums (take for instance Public Castration is a Good Idea and Feel Good Now), but it still feels like a rip-off, even compared to White Light. I can only imagine bearing witness to what they would release four years after this, especially when this is likely the only album of this period that is legitimately poor in quality. Ol’ razzmatazz chicken skin got itself shed.
Trajectory of listens past the first: negative.
Written 4/10/2023, 6:10 - 7:36 PM.