Swans and Odds and Ends (*updated*)

It’s been an unusually stressful couple of months here at Stereophile, thanks in large part to a succession of unusually demanding endeavors. Preparing our October issue was difficult for the usual reason (“Recommended Components”) and our November issue was particularly exciting for me, as it includes my first full-length review (VPI Traveler turntable), but nothing could prepare us for the intensity that came with producing, in a single month, both our December issue and our annual special issue.

Really, one issue per month is enough fun; two is cruel and unusual. In previous years, we created a Buyer’s Guide, but this year, we opted for something a bit more extravagant: 10 Years of “Recommended Components.”

Stereophile’s Recommended Components Collector’s Edition comprises the last 10 years of our “Recommended Components” list, features essays on selecting equipment, new and used, by Art Dudley, Wes Phillips, and Kal Rubinson, and hits newsstands on November 6th. Somehow, we managed to get it done.

I say “somehow,” but I know exactly how we did it. We did it with heroic efforts from our team: Listings Editor, Ariel “I Was Here Until 3AM” Bitran; Editorial Production Director, Pip “I’ll Work All Night” Tannenbaum; Art Director, Natalie “Any Suggestions?” Baca; and Managing Editor, Rusty “I Drink” Kurtz. John Atkinson and I had something to do with it, too, I vaguely recall. Not only is the Recommended Components Collector’s Edition overflowing with the wisdom and experience of our contributing editors, it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful issue we’ve ever produced. That’s thanks to Pip and Nat, but also thanks to the brilliant work of our longtime cover photographer, Eric Swanson, who allowed us to reuse several of his shots throughout the Recommended Components Collector’s Edition.

I think you’re going to love it. (You better.)

As I mentioned, it’s tough keeping track of two issues at once. I had asked Rusty Kurtz how he did it, and he replied, simply, “I drink.” And while I’m very familiar with that particular strategy, I mostly used music to assist me through the task. I drank many new records—Grizzly Bear’s Shields, David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Love This Giant, The XX’s Coexist, Flying Lotus’ Until the Quiet Comes, and Dan Deacon’s America all made contributions to the Collector’s Edition—but no record pushed me through with greater impact than The Seer, the startlingly awesome and ambitious new work from Michael Gira’s Swans.

You should buy this record, if you can find it—the LP is currently in between pressings, but you can still easily find Compact Disc ($18), Special Edition 2CD/DVD ($23), MP3 ($14), and even WAV ($18) versions. Visit Young God Records for more info. I had called all my local sources, and none of them had the LP, so I wound up buying it from a dealer in Washington (state). It’s gorgeous and I love it.

UPDATE: If you, too, have been waiting anxiously for the vinyl, you're in luck: Revolver USA, Young God Records' distributor, hopes to have new supply to stores within the next few weeks. Revolver regrets the delay, citing enormous pre-holiday demand at vinyl pressing plants—which, ultimately, is a sign of good things to come for vinyl lovers.

The Seer is epic in scope and scale: There are 11 tracks, including one 10-minute track, two 20-minute tracks, and a 30-minute track. There are guest appearances by Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Al and Mimi (Low), members of Akron/Family, members of Big Blood, Ben Frost, and many others. There are accordions, harmonicas, vibraphones, clarinets, contra bassoons, dulcimers, orchestral bells, pianos, acoustic and electric mandolins, fifty million electric guitars, fires, stars. The album is, by turns, noisy, chaotic, quiet, controlled, massive, miniscule, pulverizing, gentle, terrifying, welcoming, dreary, ecstatic, pious, profane; always beautiful, always moving, always compelling.

It’s the coolest thing I’ve heard all year.

Now that I own The Seer on LP, and now that we have just about completed our Recommended Components Collector’s Edition and December issues, I would love to spend the weekend doing little else but listening to the record, over and over and over again, on my home system. Instead, however, I will be traveling to Denver for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, which, in its own ways (local beers, mostly), will also be a lot of fun.

And now I’m thinking I’ll go out and buy a few copies of The Seer to pass along to friends and colleagues at the show. Perhaps I’ll use it as a demo disc, sure to clear even the most crowded hotel room.

Stay tuned as John Atkinson, Art Dudley, Jason Victor Serinus, and I report from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Also please be sure to visit AudioStream.com, AnalogPlanet.com, and InnerFidelity.com for RMAF reports from Michael Lavorgna, Michael Fremer, and Tyll Hertsens. I believe ML, AD, and I will also be providing special coverage of local beers and headache medicines.

In the meantime, you can listen to Swans’ The Seer right here.

Drink it up; it’s good for you.

seank's picture

I've been around the sun many times, but I'm still amazed at how different each human being can experience our world.

To me, the Swans "The Seer" album is insufferable noise.


Stephen Mejias's picture

Try Kevin Drumm's appropriately titled Sheer Hellish Miasma. (I love that one, too.)

popluhv's picture

Try Swans album "Cop". The Seer will be pure bliss by comparisson. :)

Stephen Mejias's picture

Try Swans album "Cop". The Seer will be pure bliss by comparisson.

Ha! Exactly.

MatthewSTL's picture

Hey Stephen,

That's great news you are reviewing the Traveler -- I can't wait to read your thoughts on this turntable.

Cheers, Matthew

Bill B's picture

saw Swans live last year.  I told a friend that I had expected them to be brutally intense, but they turned out to also be intensely brutal.