Sunday, September 25, 2016

Swans, "The Glowing Man"; Tim Hecker, "Love Streams"

These are two new albums by acts that have (stubbornly?) stuck to a formula for some time but have gotten away with it on account at being better at their style than anyone else.  In fact that would be underselling their talents -- they've been so successful at what they do that they're practically inimitable.  

On one hand, they get to claim a micro-genre for themselves and monopolize the attention and accolades that come with it.  On the other hand, there's a fine line between working the formula successfully and falling back on it as a safe default option, in place of pushing their creativity forward.  With both of these albums, we've reached the latter point.  The bloom is off the rose, and we've heard all they have to offer with this style (sadly, one could say the same about the M83 record as well).

Michael Gira had already announced that he was retiring Swans in their current incarnation.  I sense that he knows he's taken the 2010-2016 version of the band to its extreme, and there's nowhere left to go. The next time we hear from Swans, he claims it'll be a studio based guest artist collective, rather than a fixed collective of surly middle aged dudes who flesh out their ideas at maximum volume on stage.  "The Glowing Man" has been labeled as the softer, more contemplative side of Swans, but that side was always around on their past few albums.  It was on the folksy "The Daughter Brings the Water" (from "The Seer") and the mammoth, shimmering intro to "No Words/No Thoughts" (extended to almost unfathomable lengths when played live).  "The Glowing Man" is a half hour of crushing and spectacular noise, but they've done a few of those now and the sense of numbing shock you get when hearing those kinds of tracks is lessened every time they do it.

Tim Hecker's explorations into the densest, blackest drone reached their extreme with "Ravedeath, 1972".  Since then he's tried to lighten up, so to speak, but I can't hear much beyond the fairly gimmicky "Hecker + choir" combo.  He's not adapting his music to fit the choir, he's doing his thing and hoping it sounds cool and different with vocals decorating the mix. Hecker has played a number of live shows in churches over the years and perhaps that's what inspired him here, but his math feels off.  It's like there's an assumption that the hazy, soaring vocals merged with Hecker's typical style will automatically produce something meditative and spiritual, but I'm not feeling it.  

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