The Seer is the kind of record you finish and try to describe—only to realize you’re not sure where to begin. The title track is a psychedelic Western symphony that fades down to one guy playing a banjo in the distance five minutes in. But the same song roars back at the half-hour mark—the song is over 32 minutes long—as lead singer Michael Gira either curses us out or talks himself through a nightmare. ”A Piece of the Sky” and “Apostate,” which end the second disk, could be a rich and varied LP unto themselves.
It’s better not to consider The Seer a unified album. Some tracks are pleasantly exhausting prog-rock workouts, while “The Seer Returns” and “93 Ave. Blues” almost sound like conventional songs, showing off Swans’ more marketable talents: the tuneful jangling of a veteran alt-country band, Gira’s vocal prowess, and an intricate rhythm section that gets plenty of space to itself. “Space” is the operative term—The Seer has more of a physical than musical presence. Hearing it is like driving down a long stretch of highway: with each listen, the landmarks, flashing by amidst waves of drone, become more familiar and a little less spooky.
Every road trip has a destination, of course; after pulling an all-nighter with the apocalyptic “Apostate,” Swans hit the coast, in time to catch the bells of a departing ship as guitar echoes undulate like waves. But from the crazed chanting of “Lunacy” to a power-pop interlude at the end of “Avatar,” The Seer is one hell of a ride. Best of all, the album’s final minute is a burst of solo drumming, something we haven’t heard in the past two hours. A new sound, it heralds Swans’ inevitable return—this is a band that always (thank goodness) sees endings as arbitrary.