Swans | Soundtracks for the Blind | Review

METROLAND, Albany, NY | J. Eric Smith

a whole that transcends its parts by devouring and eradicating them

Soundtracks for the Blind is a two-disc set featuring found sounds, live tracks, tape loops, hand-held cassette recordings and multi-track studio works by various Swans incarnations—all digitally manipulated, molested, collaged and compiled into a whole that transcends its parts by devouring and eradicating them. Swans mainstays Michael Gira and Jarboe have announced that this will be Swans' final studio album, and that after a farewell tour this spring, the 15-year old band will be replaced by two new projects: The Body Lovers (specializing in lengthy shifting, mutating, mangled, musical and non-musical sound passages) and the Pleasure Seekers (offering long narrative songs in a primarily acoustic format).

There's a rub that comes from knowing Gira and Jarboe's future plans: Soundtracks for the Blind is a powerful record filled with lengthy slow-burners, acoustic passages and molested soundscapes—which of course makes it seem more like the first Pleasure Seekers or Body Lovers album than like the last Swans record. This feeling of not-Swans and nextness is exacerbated by the fact that Gira and Jarboe are the only two performers on Soundtracks without the word "guest" appended to their credits: while the duo have formed Swans' creative nucleus since the mid-'80s, they've relied on a relatively stable cast of sidemen for their studio recordings and have, to date, granted those performers equal billing as full band members. When other band members have not received such equal billing, the records in question have been released as solo discs or credited to Gira and Jarboe's alter-ego bands: Skin, World of Skin, Beautiful People, Ltd. Why change the approach this late in the game?

All things considered, 1994's The Great Annihilator (featuring long-time Swans Norman Westberg, Clinton Steele, Algis Kizys and Ted Parsons) probably would have provided a more emphatic end point to Swans' intense and influential career. That's the past. On to the future. As the first glimpse of that-which-is-to-come, this new record excites in the same way that Swans' 1982 debut album, Filth, did: that disc was a flawed, incomplete work, yes, but it framed the rudimentary structures of a radical and powerful new approach to sound and music. In short, Filth was—and Soundtracks is—interesting most of all for the potential inherent in its novel creative attack. But you've got to start somewhere . . .