Not Here/Not Now
Oh shit, I wouldn’t have a clue how to write about Swans – particularly the recent albums. I loved The Seer – well, I was frightened by it, intrigued, I felt like it pulverised me but in the end it was love, yes. And yet I did not write a review. I couldn’t. Not sure how to add to the noise there. Somewhere between people referring to Swans’ latest opus’ (plural) as second coming/s and others deciding it’s just not music is the truth.
And though The Seer’s ginormous shadow hangs over this live album – Michael Gira was already debuting material that has made it onto the equally impressive/frightening/huge new studio album, To Be Kind.
I’m kinda enjoying hanging out with Not Here/Not Now – the live album culled from the 2012 tour – a lovely fan souvenir – as some strange, but thoroughly inhabitable middle-ground. It’s all different versions for a start. We open with To Be Kind’s title track – though this mantra-dirge is nearly twice the length of the song that closes Swan’s current studio album.
The Seer’s ominous title track is further swollen – the daunting 32 minutes on the studio disc here becomes 44 minutes. And, accordingly, it’s better than most band’s careers. It is like some surreal mash of every wonderful, glorious and gory moment Sonic Youth and the Melvins have ever offered. With Scott Walker conducting. Or just slow-clapping from the wings.
The 10-minute Just A Little Boy is one of the shorter pieces here – and a couple of minutes shorter than its studio-recorded update. It’s like some clash-clang version of David Bowie’s Station to Station; as if Tom Waits’ rhythm section met up with King Buzzo to knock out a lurching, grinding cover.
That same energy flows on over to Oxygen – also recast for To Be Kind. And it’s a devilishly punkish vocal that grinds this one down over a sparse, focussed rhythm blast; the words arriving after the semi-colons of percussion allow them.
The second disc here concludes with a couple of demos – for Screen Shot and Kirsten Supine. Both made it, completed, onto To Be Kind. Here you’ll hear an intriguing part of Gira’s process, and an almost incongruous softly-softly approach, the songs yet to find their way to wriggle out of the bag, yet to allow that frenzied wriggle to set the tone and feel for their musical setting.
It’s made a lot more sense to me to hear this live album – the bridge between the end of one project and the start of another. And yet another side to Gira’s singular vision.