In all my time writing this blog I’ve written, I reckon, three negative reviews. The fist one was Swans Greed/Cop/Holy Money/Young God record which I think I referred to as a slog and rather boring. To save you scrolling through these pages the other two I thought were quite ordinary were Justice Yeldhams Cicatrix (the name still annoys me and the glass thing doesn’t translate well to record) and Sir Richard Bishop’s dinner party favourite, The Freak of Araby. The only one of those reviews I really regret is the one for the Swans because in the two years that have passed I have grown to love the brutal, menacing pugnaciousness of that record. So much so that I’ve decided to head straight back into the Swans back catalogue to see what gems I can find. Before buying Greed et al my only experience of the band had been the overblown This Burning World and White Light From The Mouth of Infinity which I remember as being alot better but it didn’t do much for me at the time. I sold both sometime in the late 1990’s which depresses me because White Light is now commanding stupid money on ebay and amazon and well, I wish I could hear it again.
Soundtracks for the Blind was their last record. It’s a double and by Lord what a record it is. I always thought that latter era Swans was full of the bleak but strangely beautiful, baritone laced liturgies like those found on White Light. Soundtracks For The Blind proved that theory wrong because its is an assortment of different ideas and sounds. In his recent Invisible Jukebox in The Wire, Gira thought that God Speed you Emperor might have got some of their ideas form Swans and at the time I scoffed but when I listened to the epic Helpless Child on Disc 1, I realised that his grand view of Post Rock is not that far removed from some of the sounds on Lift Your skinny Fists …..
There are grand gestures on this record. It is laden with an arrogance distilled by a band that knew they were leaving on a high note. Why this doesn’t make an appearance in those 100 Best Records of all Time lists only attests to how many more people need to hear this. Disc one sweeps from the stunning Helpless Child to a slab of martial no-wave (Yum-Yab Killers) to the atmospheric post-Doom rumble of The Beautiful Days before descending into Bjork-ish take on trip hop (Volcano). In between these substantial tracks are nestled instrumental vignettes of melancholia and strangeness. There is a strong smell of Throbbing Gristle on All Lined Up before Gira croons Bad Seeds style on the disc closer Animus.
Disc two is another heady ride where Post Rock themes wrestle with moments of avant garde experimentation. It’s a less strange ride than the first disc but similar influences make an appearance and some of the tracks are no less epic (The Sound). As an album it is extraordinary how a record that has elements of so many different genres works so well as a cohesive whole. If you’re thinking of buying this (and you should) get it from Gira himself and he’ll sign it for you.