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Swans | Soundtracks for the Blind | Review

The Equipment Authority | Kurt B. Reighley

an ambitious collage that folds found sounds, tape loops, and studio recordings into a dense aural melange

Often compared with Sonic Youth, Swans has consistently displayed greater stylistic diversity than its down-town N.Y.C. art-noise colleagues without deviating from frontman Michael Gira's singularly bleak vision. This, the band's last release (supposedly Swans is calling it quits), is no exception. It's an ambitious collage that folds found sounds, tape loops, and studio recordings into a dense aural melange.

Soundtracks for the Blind eschews conventional verse/chorus/bridge structures, favoring experiments with timbre and juxtaposition instead. The 1-2-3 transition from the disorienting samples of "Her Mouth is Filled with Honey" into the churning rock repetitions of "Blood Section," followed by the twisted howl of "Hypogirl" (sung by longtime collaborator Jarboe), could prompt a case of whiplash. Testimonies from unspecified individuals, as in the unnerving "Minus Something," offset majestic instrumental interludes of cello, bells, guitar, and keyboards. Often the most captivating elements border on subliminal, such as the fax tones buried in "Red Velvet Corridor" or the organ accents of "I Love You This Much."

The cumulative sensation of Soundtracks' disparate elements is akin to eavesdropping on dozens of psychotherapy sessions, hearing seemingly disassociated sets of ideas underpinned with a constant surge of raw feeling. Swans has been criticized for a decade and a half for being a difficult band for listeners to understand, but you don't have to know the details of the emotional impetus behind Gira's music to appreciate its raw power.

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