Yellow Swans

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Bring The Neon War Home (2004), 6.5/10
Psychic Secession (2005), 7/10
Drift (2006), 6/10
At All Ends (2007), 7/10
Going Places (2010), 6.5/10
Being There (2010), 6/10
Inca Ore: A Knit of My Own Fibers (2005), 6.5/10 (mini)
Inca Ore: Brute Nature Versus Wild Magic (2005), 5/10
Inca Ore: Birthday Of Bless You (2008), 5/10
Inca Ore: Silver Sea Surfer School (2009), 4/10
Pete Swanson: Static Space (2006), 6/10
Pete Swanson: Feelings In America (2010), 6.5/10 (mini)
Pete Swanson: I Don't Rock At All (2011), 6/10 (mini)
Pete Swanson: Man with Potential (2011), 7/10

Oakland's Yellow Swans, the project of vocalist Pete Swanson and guitarist Gabriel Mindel-Saloman (both also playing electronic/digital instruments), created the tapestries for electronics and drum-machines of Bring The Neon War Home (Narnack, 2004). The album has room for both the punk anthem Police Eternity for gurgling electronics, massive guitar distortion and Ministry-grade industrial rhythm, and for the abstract musique concrete and digital soundpainting of High On The Mountain Of Love, set among post-apocalyptic miasmas and galactic eruptions. The 13-minute Neon War is propelled by irregular polyrhythms and scarred by monumental distortions like Jimi Hendrix improvising on keyboards at a drum'n'bass club. Scream-like drones further devastate the vision and introduce an element of horror. Halfway the piece loses steam, as if it were drowning in quicksands; but then it picks up rhythm again and it turns into a pounding tribal dance. The eleven-minute Untitled begins like a group of improvisers tuning their instruments to each other, and it ends like the tuning went severely bad. Yellow Swans worked at the improbable confluence of free jazz, musique concrete, shamanic music and rock music.

Psychic Secession (Numerical Thief, 2005) displays an evil focus on rapidly moving masses of sound. The 20-minute True Union careens along via undulating industrial clangor that works both as drone and rhythm. A voice hissing from the other side of a nuclear explosion tries to connect with a pulsation that is rapidly increasing. All sources of noise converge into an orgasmic maelstrom that embeds a wild voodoo dance. A gentle whisper introduces the stuttering steam engine of Psychic Secession that rapidly absorbs all sorts of whirling grinding noises. The ten-minute I Woke Up transitions from brute wall of noise pierced by acid Butthole Surfers-esque vocals into a concerto for percussion ensemble only to return to the starting point. The eleven-minute Velocity Of The Yolk is the "ambient" counterpart of those manic excursions into psychosis and schizophrenia, but the (jarring) calm is disrupted by the witchy vocals of Eva Salens (Inca Ore) and Christina Carter of Charalambides.

The compilation Dreamed Yellow Swans (PACrec, 2005) collects the EP Dreamed Yellow Swans (2003), containing the two lengthy live improvisations Garrison and Drowning In Paradise, and unreleased tracks.

Drift (Root Strata, 2006) continued the "ambient" experiment of Velocity Of The Yolk, recasting their machine-powered meditations into a morbid, subliminal tension, and eskewing the abysses of torment that flooded Bring The Neon War Home and most of Psychic Secession. The first movement consists of hypnotic oscillation of strong vibrating clusters. The second one sounds like the beginning of a raga coupled with echoes of gongs before digressing into the most soothing drone of their career. The third one morphs repeatedly until it seems to drown in arctic winds. Compared with previous works, Drift sounds a bit mellow and unfocused.

Global Clone (PacRec, 2007) collects two cassettes and some rarities.

Less extreme, the noise of At All Ends (Load, 2007) began to display a melodic core. The austere twelve-minute electroacoustic chamber music of At All Ends opens like a funeral march and morphs into a dense droning stream of abrasive tones but eventually regains a humane dimension, with the guitar intoning a sort of religious psalm in Jimi Hendrix-ian style. A majestic tornado of noise frames the lugubrious chanting and repetitive funereal riff of Mass Mirage. The nine-minute Stretch The Sands , a calmer ocean of static noises but also a more cryptic one, that collapses into an oscillating drone of infinite tension, is a case of impressionistic soundpainting gone insane. The ten-minute Endlessly Making An End of Things is even less brutal, a subsonic interstellar drone that slowly reveals actually melodic guitar strumming, except of course to explode with a devastating distortion inside which one can detect a monk-like chant.

The mini-album Descension Yellow Swans (Three Lobed Recordings, 2007) collects two more lengthy live improvisations.

Inca Ore, the project of Eva Salens, manipulated her vocals (reverb, echo and delay) to shape the two lengthy oneiric pieces of the mini-album A Knit of My Own Fibers/ When You Are Sleeping I Tell You Secrets (Jyrk, 2005), the 21-minute A Knit Of My Own Fibers and the ten-minute When You're Sleeping I Tell You Secrets. Brute Nature Versus Wild Magic (Weird Forest, 2005) documents two of her live performances. The Birds In The Bushes (5 Rue Christine, 2006) and A Drawing With Shadows The Light Is Coming From The Sun (Atheists Are Gods, 2007) were collaborations with the Lemon Bear's Orchestra. By the time of Birthday Of Bless You (Not Not Fun Records, 2008) she had incorporated more instruments and returned to a more traditional song format. The drift towards more conventional structures continued on Silver Sea Surfer School (Not Not Fun, 2009).

Meanwhile, the Yellow Swans had dissolved but their recordings continued to surface. Going Places (Type, 2009) is mainly devoted to the 13-minute Opt Out, yet another "ambient" soundscape that explodes into a massive cacophony, and to the nine-minute Going Places, a crescendo of agonies. Foiled and Limited Space are shorter versions of the pieces of Public Space. The whole is permeated by an ideology of sonic overload that threatens to rip apart even the simplest moments.

The mini-album Public Space (En/Of, 2009) contains Public Space, a heavily polluted poem of musique concrete, and an 18-minute version of Foil, a simple regression and then progression of cascading distorted bliss. Being There (Type, 2010) collects Public Space and two pieces from split albums of 2008. Comedy Hypnosis is a study in coalescing extreme noise from a sparse soundscape and turning it into a sort of abrasive psychedelic "om". The crackling nebula of Inhabitants (possibly the most impressive piece here) also has psychedelic overtones. No matter how sophisticated, these compositions were a far cry from the terrifying impact of their early works.

After the Yellow Swans disbanded, Pete Swanson started a solo career via Static Space (2006), several cassettes, and the mini-album Feelings In America (Root Strata, 2010), containing the 16-minute psychedelic trip of The Fermata (at first reminiscent of Neil Young's Dead Man, but then as noisy as Dead C, an endless cascade of explosions). Then came the mini-album I Don't Rock At All (2011), containing three lengthy droning guitar improvisations: Know When To Say Wha? with floating tones used for a Roy Montgomery-ian exploration of mindscapes, weaving layer after layer of fluttering distortion, emanating a sort of glissando-raga; Cocktail Champion, whose mournful strumming evokes a stoned version of a John Fahey meditation; and especially the lugubrious post-blues dirge Stuff It that sinks in quicksands of distortion. Man with Potential (Type, 2011), instead, adopted the electronic beat of techno music to populate Swanson's noisescapes. Many work as sci-fi vignettes: the upbeat and almost comic frenzy of synth polyrhythms in Misery Beat turning into a tribal crescendo, then distorted to become something repulsive and abominable; the pow-wow dance of A&Ox0 with oscillating patterns of factory-like distorted sirens; the lava-grade crumbling noise and hammering minimalist repetition of and Far Out, shifting towards a shower of shooting stars and a rolling industrial riff. Man With Potential morphs from a minimalist iteration of beeping and chirping videogame noise into a swarm of alien insects attacking a carcass. Out of the brutal soundscapes Swanson finds also an existential dimension, best concocted in Remote View: shards of meteorites, hovering adagio-like melodic fragments and a humanizing heartbeat. The pathos of Face The Music (possibly the album's emotional zenith) arises from a loud abrasive metronomy regurgitating vocal detritus. Swanson demonstrated a passion for producing musical noise of a unique kind, similar in tone to the crackling of fire or to the sparks of a short circuit, and coupling it with a neurotic (non-hypnotic) form of repetition. The bonus disc indulges in the abstract soundpainting of the 25-minute Challenger. Pete Swanson followed this artistic peak up with another concoction of dense madcap techno music: the single Pro Style (Type, 2012), a chaotic industrial tapping/charleston dance, coupled with the eleven-minute hissing pounding suspense of Do You Like Students from which a sort of aquatic orgasm emerges, progressively shrouded in anguished drones. The next single, Punk Authority (2013), blended a swamp beat and sharp robotic dissonances. Swanson was de facto revisiting Alec Empire's "digital hardcore", while searching for a new definition of Lou Reed's "metal machine music".

Meanwhile, the Charalambides' Tom Carter and the Yellow Swans' Pete Swanson had formed Sarin Smoke, that released Smokscreen (Three Lobed, 2007). It Chars Our Lips Yet Still We Drink (Wholly Other, 2007) and Vent (Mie, 2012).

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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