SWANS: To Be Kind 2xCD, 2xCD/1xDVD, 3xLP Young God Records / Mute

swans

SWANS: To Be Kind 2xCD, 2xCD/1xDVD, 3xLP Young God Records / Mute

I have friends who refuse to accept the return of Swans; a small misguided minority who insist that “Swans are Dead”.

This statement quoting the bands 1998 live finale is now recognised as a singular moment in time, since the reformation and release of 2010’s amazing ‘My Father Will Guide me up a Rope to the Sky’ and 2012’s mighty ‘The Seer’; and it is pathetic that a small few think this way. If anything, the reformation seems an inspired move considering the proper acclaim they’re now getting, that seems to have evaded them for so long.

2014 brings their latest studio record; and one, which all but matches the monstrous length of its previous relation ‘The Seer’. ‘To Be Kind’ is no less experimental, but contains the slightly more commercial (if you can call it that-because they’re anything but) edge, that will be lapped up by those listeners that were not brought up on ‘Filth, ‘Cop’ and so forth, like some of us older folks.

Swans reincarnation in 2010 included newer members to the fold, but under Michael Gira’s steady guidance, it is as though they were there right from the bands very early, no wave grass roots inception. There is a fluidity to this latest opus, maybe more so than we found on their last two albums and it’s a clear wonderful sign that Swans are here for the long hall with many a promising tail to be told and blistering live performances to crush our senses, to boot.

Gira sounds as fresh as a daisy; his unmistakable voice sounds as good as it ever has on tracks such as ‘Screen Shot’ and ‘A Little God in my Hands’; hell, it sounds amazing throughout this release. Musically, ‘TBK’ rolls from fluid and complex blues to raging insanity at the drop a hat and it’s to Swans credit that they can still produce mighty long tracks such as the ones on here that cover a varied range of styles; plus occasional wonderfully ludicrous moments that are as heavy as a sack of spanners. The key to Swans being so at the top of their game right now is that they’re still finding their range with listenable musicality, pronouncing what they have accomplished before with more originality and freedom maybe, than constraints they set themselves in their previous incarnation.

Any Swans release can be a challenge to review due to the complexities musically and the thematic scale of the ladder you have to climb; and maybe more so nowadays given the necessary length of such output. ‘To Be Kind’ is a raging behemoth that utilises cavernous amounts of harmonies, roaring and intricate percussion, flashes of grinding guitars, looping whirlpool bass, void filling ambience and songs that capitalise on an amazing vocal talent. I rarely (if ever) can say an album hits perfection, but for me this latest varied and accomplished release symbolises the word to the letter. One of the best albums I have ever heard from start to finish; period.

9.8/10

LAIBACH: Spectre LP&CD/CD/Ltd CD w/book Mute

laibachspectre

LAIBACH: Spectre LP&CD/CD/Ltd CD w/book Mute

For over 30 years, Slovenia’s Laibach have been providing their own brand of Kitsch Industrial art for the masses. It’s also been eight long years since their last studio album ‘Volk’, and as tongue in cheek as their work is, ‘Spectre’ provides an outlet that could be their most political to date.

Laibach have always been more than their controversial jack-boots image let on. Arguments have been given that for all their meanderings about the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst) state they created, for the most part these have fallen at the feet of just being a promotional tool. With people divided as to the political leanings of the group that have formulated an image that sits between Fascist and Communist aesthetics, ‘Spectre’ blurs those lines somewhat and will leave doubts in the minds of those that thought it was all a joke.

Musically, this latest opus will ultimately leave a lot of fans divided. The military stomping is kept to minimum as we are treated to a distinctly up to date and modernised Laibach; traces of DAF infiltrate this new formula in the shape of ‘Eat Liver!’ and ‘Bossanova’, whilst I couldn’t help imagining a nod to Yazoo on ‘Resistance is Futile’ (which is ultimately one of the better tracks on the album, with an incendiary chorus). With a clean, crisp production and vocals that are firmly split between Fras and his latest female counterpart, never before have Laibach sounded more of a band that belongs on the Mute label.

As usual with any Laibach release, you can’t help but marvel at the ludicrous arrangements they sometimes concoct. Opener, ‘The Whistleblowers’ is the least surprising of the tracks I would have expected on this album, regardless of the Colonel Bogey whistle and military percussion; but is no-less anything I wouldn’t have expected and is one of those memorable songs that you find yourself subconsciously whistling out loud at inopportune moments (for me in this case, at work).

There are more than enough Industrial leanings on ‘Spectre’ to keep some of the die-hards happy as well; ‘Walk With Me’ and indeed ‘Eurovision’ are truly classic Laibach from start to finish and it’s all too easy to puff out your chest and chant “Europe is falling apart”, in a mock Fras dry vocal. On the subject of Fras’ voice, my only niggle with this release is that these could sit slightly lower in the mix; as sometimes they do feel as though there is a lethargic drawl to them rather than a necessary venom.

All in all, ‘Spectre’ stands currently as one of my favourite releases of 2014. The multi-formats offer something for the collector; a standard CD with extra tracks, a vinyl/CD combo (where the CD would have benefitted from the inclusion the extra four outtakes of the standalone compact disc, but doesn’t) and a limited edition CD with a laminated 32-page International Party book (further emphasising just how strong their political leanings are foremost the impetus within the group circa 2014). For long term Laibach fans, as I have said before, it appears they’re divided; but for me, I can only utter the words: “We are Laibach; and we will assimilate you”.

9.5/10

DIAMANDA GALAS: Guilty Guilty Guilty CD Mute

DIAMANDA GALAS: Guilty Guilty Guilty CD Mute

All but two tracks on this opus were recorded live from her 2006 ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ performance, which is mainly Diamanda showcasing what she does best;   just her and her piano for most part.

I am a sucker for piano and Galas is a complete genius on the ivories.  As usual a fantastic range of scale and attention to detail ranging from high’s to suitably low end rumbling leaves space for her sometimes erratic, but more often than not beautiful vocal accomplishments.

Flirting with the Blues and Gospel has always been part of Diamanda’s make up, but it’s the way she approaches this work;  never conventional and always challenging the boundaries occasionally teetering within the standard affair and scale of how it would normally be constructed, but more often than not taking it down the path of lunacy and sometimes downright ludicrous.

Subject matter is the standard for Galas;  hurt, despair and turmoil.  All of these are wrung to death with hope clinging on to the edge of the precipice by its fingertips.  There are few artists out there who can really face these issues in such a manner and Galas is a genius at vocalising all these elements with the passion and respect they command.

Flaunting with the beautiful and the horrific in equal measure ‘Guilty Guilty Guilty’ is simply one of those albums you have to sit through from beginning to end.  A journey into the human spirit and at its core, brutal

9/10