If you want to know the right place to start with Going Places, Portland-via-Oakland-via-Portland duo Yellow Swans’ final album, trudging through the duo’s hundreds of homespun CD-Rs from 2003-05 won’t be necessary. Instead, as we’ve previously insinuated, start with 2006’s compilation of previously scattered cassette catastrophes and damaged Deathbomb Arc tapes, Global Clone. It was the earliest readily available indication that Gabriel Mindel and Peter Swanson were moving away from the full-on abrasion of their early days toward a more expansive, engrossing sound. With Going Places (and the accompanying bonus CD available to vinyl buyers, Being There), the duo have completed the trajectory. It’s the sound of the band burning away the excess to create their purest ‘late-period’ work. If using ‘D’ words as an anti-branding in-joke extended to studio records, this would be Distilled Yellow Swans.
Rather than relying heavily on free-form improv drones and pedal work, as they’d done up to At All Ends, considerable studio time was spent working on harmonies and, more than ever, beats. Maybe ‘beats’ is too strong a word, but there is the sea shanty rhythmic ring of fellow Type artist Xela present in songs like “Limited Space” and the title track that makes the move away from Load Records feel like a logical choice.
Avoiding the political overtures of the past, Yellow Swans have turned personal for their coup de grâce. The loudness that got them to the elite level of noisemakers in the last decade hasn’t been sacrificed — if anything, this is their most deafening release yet. All six songs work well together, but the album’s stand-out is also its longest: For a glimpse of Going Places at its most noisily nuanced, look to the spellbinding 13-minute psychedelic epic that is “Opt Out.” Not unlike previous long-form burners such as “Endlessly Making an End of Things” or “Dirty Heads,” “Opt Out” exceeds both songs by recalling the best moments of more melodic acts, like My Bloody Valentine or Boris in its squalling catharsis. The effect of its climax will stay with you well into the comparatively muted follow-up, “Sovereign.” Even a cursory listen to this album will leave little doubt that Mindel and Swanson really thought through the pacing.
Much ink has been spilled about Yellow Swans over the years, both here on Dusted and well beyond, and I have a feeling that reviews for Going Places will follow the traditional pattern of mentioning the comically huge back catalog, the noise background, and similar artists like Brian Eno or Fennesz or Tim Hecker or Black Dice. All of those things are true and necessary to understand how we got here, but these details ultimately feel like a distraction — even Being Here, which reprises a few of these songs’ central riffs in a way that doesn’t deviate enough from the originals to merit commentary, seems like excess. Going Places is a monolith, the cacophonous capstone to a career that never settled for less. It’s two guys arriving at their musical endpoint, culminating nearly a decade of work with one final refinement. You won’t need a “swan song” punchline to appreciate it.