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Yellow Swans - At All Ends / Decension Yellow Swans

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Artist: Yellow Swans

Album: At All Ends / Decension Yellow Swans

Label: Load

Review date: Jan. 10, 2008

Broadly-associated terms like "noise" and "improv" may be two of the more convenient labels used to articulate the sound of Portland duo Yellow Swans, but sadly, such signifiers also tend to evoke negative connotations when applied to music, especially for those skeptic listeners envisioning images of inaccessible clamor. Don't be so quickly dismissive though, dear reader – beauty is in the ear of the beholder, and (especially in the case of the above genres) one man's earache can certainly be another man's euphoria. Gabriel Mindel Saloman (GMS) and Pete Swanson have championed that concept better than most over the course of their healthy discography of CD-Rs, cassettes and limited vinyl pressings accumulated since their inception in 2001. True, their music is cultivated from improvisational foundations and a wide palette of guitar and power electronics, but the duo has always managed to keep their music surprisingly listenable (engaging, at least), forward-thinking (futuristic?), and fresh (aggressive!). Though many punk-rooted noiseniks like those associated with the No Fun/PacRec school of rock tend to thrive on the dark, depraved side of the genre, Yellow Swans have more often than not used their work as a call to arms, focusing on liberating the senses through auditory overload and always sharing the love, however intense and violent that love may be.

Even if their two CD releases of 2007 became the most aligned with the Troniks brand of doom, they've still emerged with two gorgeous records – Descension Yellow Swans, their second release for Spanish Acuarela imprint, and At All Ends, their massive third full-length, also their second for Providence's Load records. Don't expect the volatile fluorescence found on earlier releases though – the Yellow Swans you knew from 2005's Psychic Secession have been swallowed by a monstrous mechanical cloud, excreting a vibrating haze of heavy guitar deconstructions and electronic avalanche in its wake. They still hate Fox News, still oppose the War, and still stir up a thick ruckus, but the overt political tones have been ushered out along with the drum-machine twiddles and psychedelic flashiness, giving way to more focused, mature compositions.

Somewhere on the road in Europe or across the US during 2006-’07, the highway hum and tour-van claustrophobia must have permeated into their musical approach. The cassette-compiled release of 2006's Global Clone on PacRec foreshadowed the shift in style: screaming grey landscapes of blurred faces hovering in bad-trip mode but rising slowly from the pit with grace. Descension Yellow Swans was further documentation of their deep space departure, consisting of two lengthy tracks recorded live on their Fall 2006 tour. Both pieces are slow-growing behemoths that build from amplifier hum and acquiesce out of the static loops, achieving an exhilarating peak though their respective distortion climaxes. The faded X-ray cover art represents the album's sound well, alluding to the melted industrial blackness that radiates with a dim but hopeful glow.

It is their ability to render such powerful noise landscapes into numbing optimism that makes At All Ends such a successful record, but even more so than Descension. The tracks were crafted from road-tested songs and painstakingly assembled in the studio with the help of Emil Amos (of fellow Portland dwellers, Grails) showcasing plotted and purposeful arrangements that share the exhilaration of improvisation with melodic intent. The songs progress through slow moving clouds, weighty mechanical anthems that envelop the speakers slowly and sear with their presence, heaving with distortion overload and lurching through a lysergic series of lulled pulses. Despite the sheer weight and abrasion of their compositions, the result is rather uplifting, with shimmering guitar trails coaxing a sense of optimism out of the desolation. The album's opener and title track exemplifies the approach well; the opening minutes ascend from a deserted factory hum, angrily awakened and spewing toxic fumes, but overcome in the end by a triumphant-as-hell chord progression. "Mass of the Mirages" is the other standout track here, where lysergic guitar slivers get crushed and rebuilt, only to be cyclically demolished again. I found myself often slipping into hollow states of trance, absorbed by the sheer negative space that the album created in the room.

Sucker that I am for loony electronic chaos though, I do get a bit sentimental over the digestion of the drum machine antics and erratic improvisations, and such tactics were definitely more immediately arresting than the duo's current constructions. But the tears fade more with each listen to At All Ends, as they too are sucked into the welcoming void that Yellow Swans have masterfully created, spun with the awesome beauty of a black hole.

By Cole Goins

Other Reviews of Yellow Swans

Bring the Neon War Home

Against Sleep and Nightmare

Psychic Secession


Going Places

Read More

View all articles by Cole Goins

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