I am still far from a Swans expert – though I have seen them in concert! – but I feel compelled to echo the comments of others about how this record feels either like “more accessible Swans” or some kind of hybrid of their ’80s sound with a more traditional approach to songwriting (at least in terms of tuning and chords, if not song structure).
It’s actually been a while since I’ve listened to the band so this was a welcome reminder of how good they are. Moreover, because it’s so much more accessible (relatively speaking) than their ’80s work, it was a lot easier to get into – I mean it’s a lot more immediate than their earlier stuff, from a melody perspective if not from a noise perspective.
Is it possible that Gira can write conventional hooks? It’s interesting that both Swans and Sonic Youth had moved into relatively more commercial miens in the 1990s as there is actually a song on here that reminds me of Sonic Youth around this time, though it is more tonal. (“Celebrity Lifestyle.”) Some people might regard this as selling out. I might have a decade ago. But I actually think it looks good on them.
The arrangements are pretty classic Swans, but the underlying songs are so much more conventional that it all sounds almost like conventional rock music. (I mean, almost…) It also is pretty well produced and the clarity really brings their own particular brand of Wall of Sound to light in a way I’m not sure I remember hearing on ’80s Swans records.
So this is pretty good. Moreover I think it might be the place to start for someone who is scared off by their reputation for being difficult, as I can really imagine a Swans neophyte getting into this on the strength of the (shock! horror!) melodies.