I’m hugely looking forward to this. My three all-time favourite albums, the ur-text of my tastes, are Nirvana In Utero, Sonic Youth A Thousand Leaves and Swans Soundtracks For The Blind. There’s something about the teenage moment that can never be reproduced when it comes to impact.
On Sunday 23rd, at the Shacklewell Arms (see below for website/location) I’m in attendance to hear the entire 140 minutes of pure genius that is Swans Soundtracks For The Blind over a cheerful pint or two. I admit I’m curious to consume it over the sound system at the venue, to see if it helps me peel back a few layers and find something my own stereo doesn’t quite get to. With an album I’ve lived with for some two decades it’s a moment like this where I can hear with fresh ears, step outside of my usual distracted home state and into a room where this is the core of my attention, stand in a place where I’m not bothered about thrashing the neighbours with sound and really absorb it. I’m looking forward to going to the opposite end of the spectrum from the private headphones in the dark experience.
This is part of an ongoing, and deeply wicked, series run by Michael Brooks bringing together those who love an album, those who are just curious, those who fancy a (free!) night out on a Sunday with good music and a touch of bonhomie.
Why Soundtracks For The Blind? In my view it’s still Swans finest hour – and I say that in spite of my admiration for the past four albums. This was 1996, building dense layers of ambient sound in studio was still in its infancy, and there’s a physicality to the process Michael Gira and Chris Griffin had to go through to realise these results. Post-rock, in the form of bands like Mogwai or Godspeed, hadn’t quite taken off yet, so this kind of widescreen, orchestral approach to sound – something way beyond jam-band noodling – was near new. The source materials elide the entirety of Swans history into one album, most overtly in the form of Jarboe’s take on ‘Your Property’, but also in the use of aging tape loops, outtake material, the new set being played by the 1995 era band as laid to tape in a west coast studio at the close of the U.S. leg of the tour for The Great Annihilator. To this day, I think Swans is the only band to work successfully at a double CD scale: this is a coherent album experience, something requiring a journey rather these gross ‘album as compilation to be self-curated and deleted’ releases that seem to fill a lot of chart time to an increasing degree.
I’ve agreed to introduce the album, provide reading from the book to contextualise its creation, to locate it in time and space…before we’re all sucked into its all-consuming maw of sound where we’ll dwell for just over two hours. Weightless, fleshless, devoid of physical form – at the mercy of pure experience. Wonderful.