M. Gira / D. Matz | What We Did | Review

The Wire | Jim Haynes

founded on mutual respect

During one of the final Swans tours across the US, leader Michael Gira employed the Texan post-rock ensemble Windsor For The Derby as support. Up until this collaboration between Gira and the latter's Dan Matz, Windsor had appeared to be an unusual choice, as Swans' might and emotional catharsis clearly overwhelmed Windsor's pristine repetitions and understated, Slintish punctuations. Yet in the synthesis of What We Did it becomes clear that Swans and Windsor merely took different approaches towards the same impetus to control sound in order to communicate through it. Where Gira's late period Swans built a furious trance-rock from baroque slabs of hypnotic guitar noise to augment his poetic mythologies of sex, hate, love and death, Windsor rendered an awe of the sublime through the surgical removal of bombast and a technically precise applications of mathematical compositions. Thus Gira could be seen as the Shaman and Matz the Anaesthetist.

To a certain extent, Gira's collaboration with Matz picks up where Swans left off with their tense, droning grooves. Yet, Gira is speaking truthfully when he said What We Did was founded on mutual respect. As testament to such claims the album opens with "Pacing The Locks" a duet that sets Matz's whispered vocals against Gira's dignified baritone while the two share guitar duties, gently strolling through their spartan chords. Almost comically upbeat, " Lines"' could have been lifted from the Gram Parsons songbook. Backed by a locomotive-themed arrangement with its mandatory claw-fisted banjo picking and steam-whistle harmonica, Gira poises himself at the train station waiting for the love of his life coming down the tracks - only to gleefully spoil the image with the reality of how contemporary romance is now transcribed "down through the optic line, then sifted through the screen."

While both Matz and Gira offer up a few tracks like "Lines" the most enthralling moments here are when the two lock into taut grooves and extended arpeggiations that incrementally multiply in density, bringing the song to a crescendo. "Is/Was" begins with a repetition of a plaintive Delta blues chord, adds a sustained organ drone, followed by the tinkling of a vibraphone; Matz's voice joins Gira's, and so on, until the song becomes a very subtly constructed mass of nervous rhythms. "17 Hours" for guitars, drum machine and organs, increases the tension considerably, but with far more rigidity and brittleness in the arrangement.