Swans: the Seer

Thomas Moore


I’m listening to The Seer, which is the new album by Swans, for the very first time as I’m typing this. The first song is playing at the moment; building up to something and making me feel on edge. I’ve been out of it for the last few days, a couple of things are worrying me. I’ve hurt someone and I know that I can’t change it.

Things have settled slightly for now; Michael Gira and some other people are chanting/singing the word “LUNACY.” I think at some point things will get heavy. I mean, Swans always get heavy, but there’s something about the mood. It’s feeling restrained and tight and held back for now … but I think it’s going to get really heavy. A friend just texted, asking me if I like Swans. Weird timing. I’ve sent him a reply saying yes, asking him why, and telling him that I’m listening to the new album right this minute.

They’ve locked into one of those riffs that repeat and swell slowly, with new instruments joining in bit by bit. Swans do that kind of thing really well. It sounds like someone (probably Gira) is heavy-breathing in time with (and down the neck of) the rhythm but I’m starting to question whether it’s an instrument instead. It feels like I’m listening to a body. There’s some more stuff playing over the top of the body. Swans always have this thing where you feel like you can’t really do much apart from go along with their command, which feels less pathetic as I think it to how it looks when I see what I’ve just typed.

They’re singing “In and out and in and out” now and I’m trying to keep my mind off what I’ve done, but it’s too fucked up and I keep seeing his face … I’m trying to zone completely into the music but Swans carry this overriding sense of dread so well that, I dunno, I guess this is the most appropriately sympathetic sound I could find right now, whether I like it or not. “Now feed me through/The power line/Watch me end your bloodless light.”

My friend messaged me back––he agrees that it’s weird about the timing of his text. He’s saying that he’s thinking of going to see Swans play live in Manchester, asking if I want to go. I didn’t know they were playing, and I’ve never seen them live so I’ve messaged him back and said yes. I imagine that the song that’s playing now––the title track of The Seer––would sound amazing live. Chimes and percussion like a breeze. There’s a wind that’s building up strength, something that starts by raising the hairs on your arms, but I get the feeling that it’ll end by ripping up trees. The way that the bass is played makes it clear that they’re in no hurry to get things done, which itself carries this menace, because it’s this stony confidence that this is going to happen. I’m learning more and more than once something starts, you can’t stop it.

I’ve not heard back from my friend. The vibration of his last message made me flinch––my desk buzzed.

There are so many things that I regret right now––basically everything that led up to that last look in your eyes which, because of the way I stared at you, now feels like it’s been forced into my skull on the end of a blunt knife and there’s no way to get it back out again. While we were fucking it felt ok, haha, it felt good! I mean, I was lost and fearful and all of the shit that I usually am, but it felt good and at least everything else was switched off for a while. But yeah, now I’ve messaged you and you’ve deleted your profile but I read the last thing that you wrote and now I know that things are really fucked. It feels like Michael Gira and his Swans know about all of this. There’s shame, disgust, fear, the usual––not that that makes it any easier … and it’s still building, it hasn’t even hit yet.

The hammering begins. It sounds like they’re cutting wood, measuring up space in the ground, drilling deep into fuck knows what. I feel afraid and like I can’t do anything to help myself at the moment, I guess that’s the hardest part of all of this: I know that right now, there’s nothing I can do to help myself. I don’t like the lack of control. That’s what I’m finding is the hardest part.

There are bells tinkering underneath monolith stabs of guitar and drums, squealing feedback or strings, like rats escaping from a burning city. My phone just buzzed again. Apparently the gig is touted as being three hours long. It seems fitting. The Seer feels huge. I’m lost. And in terms of waiting for the heaviness to hit––I think it’s already here. It’s like I’ve wandered straight into the belly of a beast, because its fangs and mouth were so wickedly disguised. Ha! Ok, just to prove that I’m not going mad, this is what Michael Gira just sang after I typed that: “He’s a greasy beast, heaving in a field of sticky black mud … I’m down here naked, there’s a hole in my chest, both my arms are broken, pointing east and west … Your life pours into my mouth … You have arrived.” The Seer’s claws just dig deeper and deeper. This thing is gargantuan. I’m lost and afraid and this is the only record that could make sense right now. And it keeps getting heavier. “93 Ave. B Blues” is trying to cave my skull in. The locale-based title suits this song, in that it’s reminiscent of New York No Wave, but No Wave bought back from the dead, and all that that would actually entail, not just a quip, not just a turn of phrase. The Seer is a body. Swans are examining it, trying to help it, curse it, dissect it and in their own fucked up way, they’re trying to love it too, mopping its brow with dirty water, whispering sick prayers of reassurance. There’s a sudden change of pace. Karen O’s voice sounds like the first true kindness I’ve heard in a while. Is this where we can start to get ourselves back together? I dunno, it still sounds like some kind of warning (“use your voice/and destroy”). There has been some let up, but it’s hard to trust … like you’re cowering and suddenly someone is shining a million lights on you and you have to choose one of them to guide you up and away from the wreckage that’s been created. Swans continue to pummel you with fiercely tangled messages of fear and redemption from start to finish. It’s up to you to make sense of it all. We’re both fucked and I don’t know what I can do to make any of this any better.