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Yellow Swans – Going Places

In Album Reviews on April 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm

About a week ago, when I posted about the end of noise duo Yellow Swans, I promised a review of their recently released farewell album ‘Going Places’. Since then, I have listened to Going Places over and over and over (the play count on my iPod is now up to 11) but I still find saying exactly what it is I like about this album to be elusive. Its not that Going Places isn’t a good album, but in general, the appeal of noise seems to be more of a vague feeling than any concrete thing to point to.

It is clear from the beginning that Going Places is meant to make you have that vague feeling rather than let you. Starting off any noise music can be a tricky task; either you dive right into the noise, risking losing your audience, or you kind of slide into it, starting with something melodic and nice, and then slowly destroying it. Yellow Swans do neither in Foiled. They start out atonally and noisily, with a repetitive drum track seeping with so much syncopation that it is not quite rhythmic, but still something very close to it. As soon as you start to feel comfortable with that though, they brutally take it from you, slowly fading it out in favor of an ocean of noise with a simple distorted guitar line, leaving you with hardly anything to hang on to, and a feeling of emptiness.

Just when you are feeling broken, the second song, ‘Opt Out,’ comes in with its strange and soothing, fish-tank like back-rhythm, and replaces that emptiness with something completely different. Foiled breaks you in, letting you appreciate any small thing to hang on to, and for the rest of the album, especially in Opt Out, all you have to do is sit back and let the imagery come to you. Some people might say that 13 minutes is a few too many for this song, and granted, if you are not in the right state of mind for this music, it can get both boring and grating, but when you do find that place where the imagery takes you away, the long drone of Opt Out is perfect just the way it is.

From this point in the album out, I think of Going Places more as a narrative describing an alien landscape than a piece of music, and although I know other people will hear it differently, I think that most people would hear some sense of the dramatic imagery it conveys.

One stand out track, if you were to force me to choose just one to show someone to introduce them to the album would have to be Limited Space. For one thing, I think this is the only song on the album that can stand without the rest to get you in the right mood. The drum line and the droning bells in any other context would be boring, but here with all Yellow Swans’ patented over distorted guitar and with all the different noise in the background, after a while you start to think that they too are changing their pattern ever so slightly, even though they stay exactly the same. As the song passes its halfway mark, a sample of what sounds to me like a huge crowd chanting comes in, with equally huge dramatic effect, giving Limited Space an epic feel to it.

When I said that Limited Space was the only song on Going Places that could stand alone, I didn’t mean that it was the best song on the album. In my opinion, that prize has to go to the title track and last song. Going Places (the song) has a quality about it that just seems like a perfect conclusion, especially in the context of the rest of the album. The simple melody line sounds like it is final, looking back on the past and reliving it for one last time. As the melody reaches a crescendo, a vocal line comes in that sounds like nothing more than a wail for things past.

Overall, the effect of the album is to evoke wild imagery of every kind. If you like noise music, I would highly recommend sitting down and giving this one a thorough listen. If you don’t like noise music, well there are some parts of this album that will probably sound rough and unpleasant to you, but this is not the typical painful noise music you are accustomed to thinking of. Going Places may be made of noise, but it successfully pulls it off with euphoric drama in a way that simply sounds great.

Limited Space by _type

Going Places by _type

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