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Posts Tagged ‘Swans’

Right, it's that weird grey/white business that's glorious and sparkly close up

So, I just got my copy of the new Furze album in the mail the other day.  It’s called Reaper Subconscious Guide (out now on Agonia Records), which makes just about as much sense as everything else about this band (including, for the record, my undiminished fondness for them).  Things being what they are, I haven’t yet gotten around to listening to it, but I did peruse the artwork and liner notes a bit, which yields the following two observations:

1.  Embossed black printing is pretty much old hat for high-end heavy metal packaging these days.  Sure, it looks great (e.g., Agalloch’s delightful Marrow of the Spirit), and very intense and moody and all that business.  Right.  Got it.  But here’s a new trick, then: The cover of the CD booklet for Reaper Subconscious Guide has got some of that sparkly silverish half-hologram-type effect that one might have seen on ‘Special Issue’ editions of Marvel comics back in the early 90s.  On a fucking black metal record, folks!  It’s awesome.  Dude calls himself Woe J. Reaper, and puts fucking sparkly holograms on his album cover.  Bonus points galore, in my book.

2.  More seriously, the album contains the following message, printed both on the back cover and, in wobbly Master of Reality font, on the disc itself:

“To all listeners: Artist (and publisher) invest a wholelot [sic] of time and energy in this work (years).  Do not put this album on the net for free listening / download in any way – it kills possibility to receive back even some of what we put into this…”

Mine's numbered 101, because I know you were ravenously curious

This reminded me of a statement in the liner notes to Michael Gira’s solo record put out earlier this year to finance the new Swans record.  It’s called I Am Not Insane, and it features solo acoustic versions of pretty much all the tracks that wound up on the superlative My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (in fact, the only song which did NOT appear in acoustic version first is the intensely creepy duet between Gira’s three-year old daughter and freak/folkie Devendra Banhart, “You Fucking People Make Me Sick.).

Big universe, little mouth

Anyway, toward the end of the home-printed liner notes, reads the following message:

“Please do not upload any of the material contained in this package onto the web or ‘share’ it all over the god damn place.”

Now, both because I’m too lazy, and don’t really care that much, I’m not going to bother looking around the regular places of the internet to see if either (or both) of these releases have  been uploaded to various ‘file-sharing’ venues.  Also, I’m pretty much 100% positive that they will have been.  I’m also not really interested in getting into some huge malignant debate about the ethics of illegal downloading (though you think its advocates could come up with a less normatively-loaded term, don’t you think?) here (or probably anywhere, ever) versus the ostensible depravities of the record industry et cetera et cetera.  I just think this kind of (relatively) direct appeal from the artist to the listener is an interesting approach.

I mean, I’m pretty sure that if someone’s planning to upload an album for file-sharing, some quaint shaming tactic like this won’t make much of a difference.  Or, rather: Do you suppose it makes people spread it ’round faster?

The moral of the story is: Buy records to support the artform.  Also, artists: use more fucking sparkly hologram shit, yeah?

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Hello, friends.  Not too much is shaking ’round Spinal Tapdance HQ today, but I was thinking that maybe I’d like to send a mixtape to each and every one of you.  But then, of course, real life intrudes.  Logistics, &c.  The mind boggles.

So, please accept this poor substitute; namely, a “mixtape” in the form of a whole mess of YouTube links.  Still, these are some of the jams that have been helping me beat the heat around here.  Enjoy!

1. Amorphis – “The Castaway” (1994)

2. Dream Theater – “Stargazer” (Rainbow Cover) (2009, original 1976)

3. Sleep – “Dragonaut” (1993)

4. Unearthly Trance – “God Is A Beast” (2008)

5. Swans – “I Remember Who You Are” (1989)

6. Devin Townsend – “Material” (2000)

7. Madder Mortem – “Formaldehyde” (2009)

8. Anaal Nathrakh – “Do Not Speak” (2004)

9. Neurosis – “Locust Star” (1996)

10. Nick Drake – “Cello Song” (1970)

Please have a (mostly) Very Heavy Metal Wednesday.

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Oh my goodness, I can hardly control my excitement (I am using understatement to emphasize my point).

Your friend and mine, Michael Gira, has reformed the band that made us all love the sound of abjection, Swans.  I was sadly unaware of the brilliant music of Swans until some time after they first disbanded (after 1997’s final full-length Soundtracks for the Blind), so I am super-hella-crazy-mega-pumped to finally see them live.

A charming sort of fellow

Of course, the unfortunate thing about it is that, at least as of now, it doesn’t seem that Jarboe is going to be a part of this reunion.  It was probably overly wishful thinking to hope for such a thing in the first place, but I guess I’ll just have to be content with the fact that Jarboe has continued to make excellent and challenging music, both on her own, and, especially, with an extremely notable list of collaborators throughout metal’s avant-garde: Neurosis, Justin Broadrick, Byla, Phil Anselmo & Atilla Csihar on the astonishingly good Mahakali, and Kris Force on the soon-to-be-released soundtrack to some random video game.

Anyway, if you have a love for all that is good and righteous in music, you would be well-advised to seek out the music of Swans, and to attend their upcoming concerts.  Here’s the complete list of tour dates for the U.S. leg of their tour this fall, with more information on European dates available at Gira’s label, Young God Records:

Sept 28 Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero Theater
Sept 29 Washington, DC – Black Cat
Sept 30 Boston, MA – Middle East downstairs
Oct 01 Montreal, QC – Le National – Pop Montreal fest
Oct 02 Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
Oct 04 Detroit, MI – Crofoot Ballroom
Oct 05 Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
Oct 06, Columbus, OH – Outland Live
Oct 08 Brooklyn, NY – Masonic Temple
Oct 09 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom

I’ll be kicking it Swans-style here in Chicago October the 5th.  In the meantime, how’s about a few videos to whet your interest?

Here’s a rather unfortunately seizure-inducing video for the title track off of Love Of Life (interesting tidbit: try to see how many of these photos will end up being used as cover art for Gira’s albums as Angels Of Light):

And if that one was a bit soft for your taste, have a nice little palate-cleansing bludgeoning from the much rawer Swans circa 1987:

Go get your tickets, before the tickets get you.  Or whatever.

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Given that this current bout of ninety-plus degree weather has sapped me of all earthly energy, why not opt for the path of least resistance (namely, random iTunes game)?

1. Aphex Twin, “Come to Daddy (Little Lord Faulteroy Mix)” – Some creepy and understated electro from Mr. Richard D. James.  This track suffers incomparably, however, from appearing immediately before one of my favorite Aphex Twin tracks ever, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” which, apart from appearing on the Come to Daddy EP, also showed up on the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi alongside other mid-90s electronic greats such as Autechre, Massive Attack, Orbital, and the sometimes-maligned Banco de Gaia.  Anyway, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” makes fantastic percussive use out of what sound like ball bearings being dropped on a smooth concrete surface; those interested in weird musical coincidences might also check out Gnarls Barkley’s jaw-droppingly awesome track “Open Book” for a somewhat similar percussive production.

2. Today is the Day, “Flowers Made of Flesh.” – Well, goddamn it all if I didn’t try to get through all of Sadness Will Prevail a few times. I’ve pretty much decided that the sprawling double album was never intended to be sat through all at once – not because the band wanted each disc experienced separately as a self-contained experience, but rather that two-and-a-half hours of tripped-out ambience, disturbing samples, shrill, shrieking almost-grind, and droning cyber-death riffing were intended to beat the listener into submission and leave him or her huddled in the very same asylum corner pictured on the album cover; whether that speaks well or ill of the record, I’ll leave you be the judge.

3. At the Gates, “Neverwhere.” – At the Gates’ earlier records seem to get overlooked in favor of discussing the landmark Slaughter of the Soul, which makes sense, given that commentators are equally likely to single out that album as the greatest example of the concise brilliance of the Gothenburg style as they are to metaphorically vomit all over its reputation by arguing that without it, the reviled styles of ‘metalcore’ and ‘deathcore’ (I guess) would have been, if not completely forestalled, then at least staved up by a fair while.  I don’t much buy either position, and find it a fun, thrashy little album that never sticks with me much after it’s finished playing.  This track, from their debut album The Red in the Sky is Ours, is kind of cool, but the stuttering, intentionally awkward melodic phrases right at the start bum me out.

4. Tool, “The Pot.” – Tool fans are an odd bunch, right?  10,000 Days was a fairly divisive record, if I recall, and I’ve still never quite figured out my own feelings about it.  I think “Vicarious” worked quite effectively as a single, and the 17-minute, two-part “Wings for Marie”/”10,000 Days” suite ranks up there with the band’s best work.  On the other hand, this track does almost nothing for me, and I find the 11-minute plus running time of “Rosetta Stoned” unacceptably self-indulgent for a track which goes nowhere and features embarrassingly expletive-laden adolescent stomping exclusively.  Go figure.

5. The Stooges, “Not Right.” – Every now and then, the world forgets what rock and roll sounds like; in these dark times, all it takes is someone with a shitty set of speakers (the shittier the better, when it comes to The Stooges) and a ragged copy of Raw Power to roust the world from its shiny-overproduced-rock-music-induced somnolence. This track is from the self-titled album, for the record, but for my money, Raw Power is ALWAYS where it’s at for sheer rock fury – especially in fiery opener “Seek and Destroy” (seriously, YouTube that shit to see Iggy tearing up that track at any point over nearly FOUR decades) and the downright nasty “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.”

6. Mistress, “Whiskey Tastes Better…” – Possibly the dirtiest band in dear old Blighty, and brought to you by the same lovely folks behind Anaal Nathrakh and Fukpig.  This track features some fairly grimy power metal squealing (think Iced Earth, but like everyone who gives two shits about Barlow or ‘Ripper’ Owens got on the wrong side of a bar fight with Jon Schafer’s Civil War reenactment buddies and ended up chewing on a broken bottle of Jack Daniels) all over the top of a close-but-not-quite-Sunlight riff-fest of sludge-caked grind.  In other words: awesome.

7. Sufjan Stevens, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” – Oh my, my, my; that is one ironic transition.  From the filthy misanthropy of Mistress to Sufjan’s fairly straight take on this sacred Christmas song.  Not too many indie artists could get away with Sufjan’s five-volume (and still counting, I believe) mini-albums for Christmas, but the dude knows just when to rock his straight-up EARNEST voice, and when to cut loose a little (see “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”).  Plus, the minor key mope-fest that is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was basically MADE for this kind of sad bastard music (apologies to Nick Hornby/Jack Black/Belle & Sebastian/etc.).

8. Swans, “Saved.” – O boy.  There is way too much to be said about Swans (which I may attempt in a later post).  This track is from the controversial album The Burning World, which was Swans’ first (and only) major label album.  Michael Gira (Swans’ principal songwriter, singer, and all-around Dude Of The Righteous Voice) has disavowed the album, primarily due to the pressures he feels the band faced from the label to clean up their sound, as well as the production job done by Bill Laswell.  If you ask me, the whole thing is a bit overblown; yeah, the album is a far cry from the nihilistic drone-stomp of their early 1980s work (Cop, Greed, Filth, Holy Money, etc.), and sure, it was a disappointing come-down to have been the follow-up to probably their all-around most consistently awesome full-length, Children of God, but it’s still got some pretty decent tunes (although, it ought to be said, this is not one of the best), especially “I Remember Who You Are,” “God Damn the Sun,” and opener “The River that Runs with Love Won’t Run Dry.”  Although the instrumental textures, which were really tidied up and smoothed over, may be the biggest change from their previous work, the thing I found most tough to swallow about The Burning World is the almost country-fied, honey sweet gloss given to Gira’s vocals (as opposed to the much gruffer, roots-ier country style occasionally employed by Gira later in his excellent work as Angels of Light – now defunct, with Swans back in action as of late last year).  All of this is mostly beside the point, as this record is one tough motherfucker to find, with most used copies selling online for $30 and up.

9. Drudkh, “Where Horizons End.” – This Ukrainian band is definitely on my list of “Metal Bands Whose Names I Will Try To Avoid Speaking In Public Because I’ve Got No Fucking Clue How To Pronounce Them” (also making the list: Amon Amarth [which looks deceptively easy, but how they hell are those vowels pronounced?], Kiuas, Mörk Gryning, and hundreds of others).  Disregarding the linguistic difficulties, these reclusive metallers have made some of the most mesmerizing and grimly melodic black metal of the past decade or so.  This track, from Estrangement, shares all of those wonderful songwriting characteristics, but, like the rest of the record, suffers, in my view, from an excessively treble-y production, both in the clean-ish lead guitar and the way-too-fuzzed-out distorted rhythm guitar.*  The bass sounds pretty great, but simply can’t match the extremely classy and even more up-front bass in their most recent (and much superior) album Microcosmos.

10. Black Breath, “Virus.” – Well, hell yes.  Black Breath’s debut full-length, out just earlier this year on Southern Lord, is a super-potent kick in the goddamned teeth.  Heavy Breathing features an excellent, compact Swedish death metal-style guitar tone, but mixes it up into a fierce cocktail of Disfear-esque metallic d-beat and seriously pissed-off half-time doom breakdowns.  Check out the completely wicked instrumental “Heavy Breathing” and the way it seamlessly breaks into the following track, “Children of the Horn.”  Crushing and dangerous stuff, and much too well-crafted for being their debut album (well-received three-track EP of last year notwithstanding); make sure your china is well-secured in its hutch, because these dudes have the potential to smash your pitiful little world down to shards and pixels if they get any better.

That’s all for now, friends; I’m off to break things.

*Apologies to your friend and mine, the comma, who is sure to be sorely overused whenever I get my grubby little hands on it.

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