Swans | Soundtracks for the Blind | Review

Columbus Guardian | Curtis Schieber

defies the easy pitfalls of the genre

It's all pretty hopeless, according to many poets since Baudelaire. That guiding axiom has been a powerful force in rock for a couple of decades. The stance—after more than a century—is surrounded by traps. Pretense, obviousness, and petty fashion await all but the most creative purveyors of the doom doctrine.

Swans' "Soundtracks for the Blind" defies the easy pitfalls of the genre, calling, instead, for the listener's trust. The group's rhetoric purposely separates the doubters from the believers.

After 15 years of musical assault, Swans' music is hard to ignore, prime mover Michael Gira hard to doubt. Perhaps the music's credibility is boosted by the fact that this double CD is planned to be the group's last.

The album's tone reflects that finality, in waves of quiet resignation punctuated by a few truly peaceful moments. "The Beautiful Days" presents a calming drone, an ambient soundscape reminiscent of Fripp and Eno's seminal "An Index of Metals." Though much of the rest of the album mesmerizes with its sonic constructions ("Blood Section" is clangy and conjures the late Beatles; "I Love You this Much" is as jolting as witnessing an auto accident), Gira's desperation is center stage. His end game is not only a goodbye to his band, but also an evaluation of society's bleak prospects. Indeed, much of the album feels like a soundtrack for a time after the end of the world. It's a place of peace—and emptiness.

Gira and bandmate Jarboe's feelings are even more desolate than their soundscape and are the central focus of this double CD. But "Soundtracks for the Blind," despite its desolation, is a varied and clever tour through the darkness—one that rarely lets go its grip.