Swans are an experimental rock band from New York that started in the 1980s during the New Wave music era. The band has had several lineup changes over the years, but has been primarily lead by front man and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira. He has also stated that The Seer “took over 30 years to make,” which actually seems rather accurate; the album itself is incredibly complicated and it’s hard to decipher what exactly is going on in some of the songs.
The album’s songs range from bizarre to upbeat to all-out scary. The first song off the album, ‘Lunacy’, is a haunting tune with nothing but diminished chords and freaky sounds being played on a huge onslaught of instruments, not to mention the haunting mantra “Lunacy, lunacy.” As an enthusiast of yoga and trance music, this song is meant to put you in a state of fear; a trance you don’t want to be in (in other words, don’t get high to this song).
But it then contrasts with the droning noises of ‘Mother of the World’ with two repeating chords. It’s a very minimalist feel; the song is incredibly simple, yet has such a mass effect.
The contrast is sweet, especially when the album bursts into songs like the 32-minute epic ‘The Seer’. It begins with an array of instruments just blasting notes at fortissimo and slowly fades out after two minutes of jarring noise.
The contrast of the album isn’t particularly what’s so great about it; as I may have mentioned before contrast can go two ways: either every song sounds the same or the songs are too different and doesn’t give the album an overall feel. This album sometimes falls into that trap, but stays out of it by having a huge amount of creativity going into the songs. All the clashing and contrasting songs make The Seer worth the two-hour behemoth of an album that it is.
For a final note of praise, I’d like to comment on the album cover. It may not seem like a big deal, but one must remember that there has to be something that grabs one’s attention, and an album cover as good as this really got to me. It’s simply the head of a wolf with human teeth, yes, but look closely, and you’ll see there’s more than meets the eye. The more you stare at the album, the freakier it gets and the stranger the face becomes. That’s what’s best about some album covers: so simple, yet so effective.
If you’re interested in something very different or are simply a fan of really bizarre music, I highly recommend The Seer. It isn’t often that an experimental rock/noise rock album hits the Billboard 200 or earns praise as one of the best albums released in a year. Give it a listen, it may surprise you.