Swans - Soundtracks For The Blind
Jun 24, 2019
The Black Parade is dead. Long Live Soundtracks For The Blind.

As some who follow me may know, for the longest time, my favourite album has been The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance’s 2006 rock opera. Even though I knew it was my favourite album, I always had a feeling that something would overtake it eventually. While it’s certainly a 100, it’s not flawless, and I felt that there had to be at least one album that I’d be blown away with so much, that I’d think that it was better than The Black Parade. And here we are. Going into Soundtracks For The Blind, I almost definitely knew I would like it. It’s Swans’ highest rated album, within the top 25 albums of all time by user score on this site, and I’d seen many people list it in their top 3 for Swans. But I’d also seen people rate it as low as 85 (which isn’t low at all, just comparative to most other ratings I’ve seen for it), so I wasn’t going in thinking it was going to be my new favourite album of all time (at least for now). As soon as I got into this album, that completely changed.

We’re introduced to the first disc with a piano melody (that reminds me of the Radiohead B-Side How I Made My Millions), and some droning sound effects in the background, on the track Red Velvet Corridor. While this may not sound like much when I describe it, or it may not even sound like much when you first listen to it, given the whole album, it’s a perfect opener. It eases you into this post-rock behemoth in the best way possible, with an almost soothing track, before going into the hard-hitting main body of this record. This more ambient sound is continued into the next track, I Was A Prisoner In Your Skull, with some “vocals” introduced, which are really just animalistic sounds coming presumably from Michael Gira. A pulsating drum beat builds up to the introductions of one of the central themes of the album: mysterious audio recordings. As we saw in the track Her from Love Of Life, Swans likes to put into use audio recordings taken by Jarboe’s father, who was an FBI agent. These are scattered throughout this album to add to the eery atmosphere, as a lot of these remain unexplained, as the members of Swans themselves don’t even know the context. The recording displayed on this track shows an insane man seemingly talking to someone with a mental handicap, and it’s downright creepy, like many of the others in the album. Helpless Child, what I consider to be the magnum opus of this album, as well as my favourite Swans song, slowly uses acoustic guitar to lead into some Michael Gira’s darkest lyrics, with brilliant gloomy vocals to go along with it. This track continues with the introduction of a post-rock sound that gradually changes up, gets louder, and even adds new instruments at points, just going all out on the listener’s ears, with the growling guitars and clashing cymbals, blissfully ending on the highest note possible. Live Through Me is easily one of my favourite instrumental tracks on the album, which is quite impressive when you take into account the amount of instrumental tracks here, and the acoustic guitar shines through every time I listen to it. Yum-Yab Killers is one of two tracks on the album where the band wasn’t satisfied with the studio version of the song, so used the live version instead, and it certainly pays off. From the live recordings I’ve heard, Jarboe seems to have far more primal vocals in the live setting than her sometimes lighter vocals in the studio setting (as you can see if you compare the studio version of Mother’s Milk from The Great Annihilator with the live version from Omniscience). This sound for her vocals works in context of the album extremely well, and paired with the menacing guitar riffs portrayed here (which at some points remind me of early Muse), it makes a brilliant song. The Beautiful Days has what has got to be one of the most disturbing recordings in the whole album, with a man describing being on the phone with someone mastrubafing, which is apparently a service that was given out in the 80s? WHAT THE FUCK? The Jarboe-led track Volcano is almost a dance song, or the closest Swans can come to that, but it’s more like dance music from hell, with an absolutely insane instrumental, and cryptic but sometimes haunting lyrics, that just send shivers down your spine. It’s definitely my favourite Jarboe track on here, which I’m sure most people would agree with, because of the erratic nature of the instrumental and vocals. It almost seems to me to be a precursor to some of Radiohead’s experimental tracks, especially Idioteque. Now I don’t know for certain that Radiohead was inspired by this, or had even heard the song, but I can definitely see how they would be. All Lined Up has one of the eeriest instrumentals on the whole album, and may even be the only song that can scare me. There’s a vocal effect put on Michael Gira’s voice that makes it quickly go up and down, creating an almost ghostly sound, before startling with you a sudden burst of some of the loudest guitars and drums here, a driving explosive sound, that really makes this one of the best of the first disc. Animus, starting off with what seems to be a basketball bouncing, has some of Gira’s best vocals here, sounding simultaneously powerful and fragile, with an orchestral sound in the background, until a loud but beautiful wall of sound is brought in, almost seeming to be a precursor to what Swans would do on later albums such as The Seer. The crashing cymbals come in waves, and the occasional heavy pounding of the drums, that gets constantly more frequent, adds so much to the grinding guitar and strange viola that fades in and out, to create such a grand and fantastic post-rock explosion, while it may be one of the longest musical explosions I’ve ever heard. And with that, the first disc is closed off perfectly.

The second disc is introduced with some rather calming and pretty vocals from Jarboe on the track Red Velvet Wound, that gets slightly twisted near the end of the short track with a drawn out ambient noise. I feel this track may have been better placed at the end, but I’m certainly not complaining about it’s current placing, as it works great as the introduction to the second disc as well. This leads into another massive track The Sound, and it continues to highlight why the longest tracks on here are my favourites. It’s surprisingly the only of these longer cuts to not end on the booming instrumental, as amazing as the one here is, as it transitions back into Gira’s spectacular singing. Her Mouth Is Filled With Honey has some of the best samples in it, as well as a relatively short but great visceral guitar bit, and a recording that could even be Jarboe’s father himself talking about Jarboe, that seems almost sweet but creepy at the same time, especially because of the overall atmosphere this song creates. Blood Section is a more brief version of the long instrumentals from the best tracks on here, almost seeming like it could have been on The Great Annihilator. Hypogirl starts off with a blood-curdling guttural shriek from Jarboe, leading into some of her strangest vocals, almost sounding like a more aggressive form of the vocals from Mother/Father. Minus Something has a recording from the same man from The Beautiful Days, and his unnerving voice paired with his out-of-context words only add to the mystery of the album. Empathy is rather melancholic, with rather soothing vocals from Gira, that have a sinister undertone when combined with instrumentals. I Love You This Much, while being an instrumental track, may be one of the most brutal pieces of music on here, starting off with an ear-piercing drone. It then introducing an organ paired with a whole chorus of people almost singing over it in such a weird fashion that it portrays insanity perfectly, as everything seems to spiral out of control, just becoming a bunch of noises that mix together perfectly. A chopped-up vocal sample seems to come out of nowhere at the beginning of YRP, startling me every time. Jarboe describes herself as a slave in this song... and she seems to like it this way. The already disturbing lyrics of this song lead to some extremely haunting vocals coming in on the chorus, and signing off with a repeated heavy guitar strum. The Final Sacrifice is a hypnotising live performance with a slow melody and Gira’s gentle vocals... until the chorus where he fucking goes all out! Gira’s voice is at its most guttural here, comparative to some of his vocals on To Be Kind. The track has a very well-timed drum beat to go along with steady but great guitar. But I still can’t get over Gira’s vocals here. I mean, loud doesn’t always equal good, but it certainly does here. They carry such an immense power that only one such as Gira could perform. YRP 2 starts off normally, or as normal as a Swans song can get, and then just suddenly Jarboe comes in fucking screaming at the top of her lungs with booming guitars and drums just making as much noise as they possibly can. It may be such a short track, but it does so much with the time it has, and certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. Surrogate Drone is just a short enough drone track to close out the album, and while it’s nothing special like the rest of the album, it does serve as a good enough finisher, especially with the sudden end right after the sudden introduction of some tinny electronic noises.

(Conclusion’s in the comments because of review limit)

Disc 1: 50/50
Disc 2: 50/50

Favourite Tracks: Helpless Child, Animus, The Final Sacrifice

Least Favourite Track: Surrogate Drone
Jun 24, 2019
This album is certainly the only masterpiece that I’ve come across so far in Swans’ career, and I can certainly see why they chose to make this album before they broke up, as it seems very final. The melding of genres throughout here not only shows Swans being ambitious, and mastering everything they do, but also shows Swans wanting to try out so many things as a last hurrah before they go out. This certainly showcases Jarboe’s best performances, as well as some of Michael’s.
Jun 24, 2019
I don’t believe I’ll ever grow tired of this album, and truthfully it gets better with every listen. There’s just so much to unfold, and some mysteries that will never be solved (like the ending of I Was A Prisoner In Your Skull of course). A truly terrifyingly beautiful experience that is a must listen for all post-rock fans.
Jun 24, 2019
Such a long and great review. Good job!
Jun 24, 2019
R.I.P. The Black Parade

Also, Jesus this is such a great review! One of the better ones I've seen here tbh.
Jun 24, 2019
@cattroll @JustSomeGuy Thanks a lot! I really tried hard on this one, and there’s a lot to talk about here.
Jun 25, 2019
And amazing review btw!
Liked By
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Swans - The Seer
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Swans - Die Tür ist zu
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Swans - The Great Annihilator
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Swans - Love of Life
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