Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fennesz, "Becs"; Swans, "To Be Kind"

Two new albums from acts with inimitable styles, returning to their noisy, bludgeoning ways that they abandoned years ago.  The end results, however, are drastically different.

The newest album from the reborn Swans is the heaviest, most industrial music they've done since the 80's.  "The Seer" was almost overwhelmingly massive, but "To Be Kind" somehow finds a way to shift into a higher gear.  At times it's almost too much -- they've gotten the point across but keep blasting away behind all sense and sanity, until it all finally makes sense again and you're ready and willing to endure even more of what they have to throw at you.  "To Be Kind" and especially the 30-minute centrepiece "Bring the Sun/Toussaint Overture" are the best examples of how relentless this album is.  Up until now, if I wanted to hear Swans bathed in the metallic shards of their own sweat like these, I had to listen to crappy sounding bootlegs from the 80's.

"To Be Kind" is more "rock" than "The Seer".  On the last album they relied on experimental collage pieces to fill up the two hours and give the listener a break, but "To Be Kind" is nothing but heavy and heavier, all the time.  And believe it or not, these two hours flies by a lot quicker that they do on "The Seer".


"Becs" is pretty much a noisier carbon copy of "Endless Summer".  You could say that Fennesz was also looking to take his music to a sort of extreme, but whereas Swans looked at their last album as a stepping stone for something biggeer, Fennesz approached "Becs" like he was doing a remake of "Endless Summer" with extra static tossed in.  The starting point even could have been a low quality rip of "Endless Summer" that sounded so scratchy and distorted that he decided to use that awful sounding source as inspiration for the sequel.  For the most part it works, because anything this reminiscent of that album can't help but be mostly good.  Only the title track manages to hit the legendary sweet spot where the Beach Boys meet distorted guitar and frayed electronics in front of a sun that never sets.  

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