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Reviewed this week: Swans, Daniel Hales and the frost heaves, and Alasdair Roberts & Friends

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Swans

The Seer

(Young God)

Bands commonly reunite, but they rarely create new music that rivals their original output. Swans are an exception. Almost 30 years after their debut, The Seer could be their magnum opus, a two-hour culmination that also carves out new pathways. Appropriate for a group whose brutal sound could make their audiences physically sick, this is an extreme and demanding work, featuring three songs that span 70 minutes. Led by Michael Gira, the band employs their previous textures—No Wave, Industrial, Goth, and Americana—but weaves them into a fresh tapestry. The Seer is primal, propulsive, harsh, haunting, aggressive, dissonant, hypnotic, incantatory and ultimately transcendent. There’s Karen O’s performance on the delicately beautiful “Song for a Warrior,” but more common are tracks like “Apostate” that veer between carillon chants and skull-crushing savagery. It’s not meant to be an easy listen, but this visionary album ultimately lives up to its title. —Jeff Jackson

 

Daniel Hales, and the frost heaves

You Make A Better Door Than A Window

(Algorithm)

“It’s our best door yet,” Greenfield singer and guitarist Hales says of his band’s latest effort. For listeners, this means an eclectic mix of college/indie rock, Americana, folk, psychedelia, soul and funk. Album opener “Halo Over My Horns” begins with a pleasant guitar intro before erupting into an upbeat rocker, while two versions of the record’s title track give alternate readings of a song that is revealed to be equal parts catchy sing-along and budding epic. “Singing in the Breakdown Lane” complements lyrics about car trouble with a hard-charging country chorus. And “Braille For God” finds Hales employing a Michael Stipe-like delivery over muted percussion. Though some might gripe over the lack of a dominant musical style, repeat listens reveal hidden treasures, from the scratches buried within “All My Best Worrying” or the sitar flourishes within “Present Perfect Tents.” —Michael Cimaomo

 

Alasdair Roberts & Friends

A Wonder Working Stone

(Alba Cruthachail)

The music of Alasdair Roberts & Friends is soaked in the traditional poetics of Scotland. Some songs hark back to an earlier day, and forlornly express the trials of the clans. Others are modern works whose words, carefully chosen, do justice to the bardic traditions of the Celts. A Wonder Working Stone is a strange album, with songs about wakes, sibling incest and cultural genocide, and it isn’t exactly uplifting. Still, don’t let that discourage you—the themes of the songs speak to the rich cultural tradition that Roberts has inherited. His voice is remedy enough for any funky bumps the lyrics may leave, and the weaving of words into story and myth makes for a worthwhile listening experience. —Kathleen Broadhurst

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