It’s unfair and somewhat hokey to eulogize a band that, through no public spectacle of tragedy, interband contention, or abbreviated lifespan, decides to simply go their separate ways. After years of utilizing the standard prolificacy of the noise/avant underground to reach varying artistic zeniths, craft personally healthy and mesmerizing directions, and mature their identity without sacrificing their unusual and grueling potency, Yellow Swans (Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman) stood as an act that was notably solid through most of their exhausting back catalog and an abstruse pair willing to defy easy comparisons or firm identities.
Yellow Swans' early, ugly death-industrial longplayer Bring The Neon War Home took Wolf Eyes’ Gristle-for-hardcore-kids sound nearer to the dance floor, though the hyperactive faux-drum clatters and squalling feedback made for something too disarmingly dangerous and uncomfortable for anyone seeking escapism. The guest-laden Psychic Secession stripped the remnants of polish into a more muscular score of dread, especially the arguable career-peak of the album’s one true duo track, “True Union.” While further exploring where they could simultaneously reach and excel through scores of tapes, records, and CD-Rs, last year’s At All Ends stripped the industrial leanings and youthful aggro to sludgy and momentous beacons of drone, which was blissful for the more masochistic of us.
With this trajectory, those wondering how the Swans -- one of the few recent bands of the suffocating and impenetrable glut of post-psychedelic-meets-post-industrial drone-mongers to actually hit upon something propulsive and compelling -- could move past this progression down the line were perhaps not terribly shocked when the duo announced a somewhat abrupt split this year. Although the breakup leaves a significant void, it also admirably finds the duo deciding to end it all at personal peaks.
Deterioration was originally self-released last year as a cassette, and while even some of the best acts dabbling in neo-avant-isms struggle in the quantity-over-quality department, this unassuming tour cassette stands firm with anything else in the Swans’ vast catalog, a nearly forgotten treasure now delivered as a curious sort of pseudo-eulogy.
“Broken Eraser/Time Stretch” is as gargantuan and often-punishingly gorgeous as anything the Swans have crafted in the past few years. Opting to take the enveloping vapors of guitar- and synth-generated drone to a less tired-and-true trajectory, the Swans subvert the standard musings of their Matthew Bower-influenced brethren through expert changes of timbre and space and just as much with the towering personality of ever-flourishing guitar haze. Swanson’s electronics add a certain texture and impenetrable stimuli to compliment Saloman’s assured sonifications, while the second movement's near-Kraut beats provide a euphoric intensity that blows forth the cacophonous showers with unrelenting swagger.
“Reintegration” suggest a further tussle with melancholy serenity before gashing its metallic fog into something disheartening, while the treble-infused crunch of “Burnt Dub” and the concluding memorandum of “Dirty Heads” ebbs and weaves its lost voices and piercing signals without reaching the epic climax or optimistic answers one would hope. The latter actually dies down and returns twice, suggesting a natural fear of implosion and a further emphasis of the piece’s morose underpinnings.
Admirably, Yellow Swans never gave into the casual machismo and do-or-die purism that gluts much of the harsh noise underground; they kept the specter of uncertainty and bleakness gazing upon their powerful racket, never pandering to the stoned-out escapism and reactionary optimism on the sunnier sides of the drone/noise spectrum. Their unabashedly political declarations, often delivered between pieces during their live shows, added a penetrating fervor and passion to the actual sounds, an enormously refreshing and all-too-rare display of emotional vigor typically unfounded in noise’s shocktactic nihilism and snide, gory indifference. Deterioration, an apt title if any to go out on even if this is technically a reissue, lets the Swans pour forth some of their last utterances with blindsiding assurance and a lack of self-pitying mournfulness. Their sounds still suggests a dreadful uncertainty to what lies ahead in our own worlds and stands as an inspired manifestation of noise’s power to hit the personal spots that even the most thick-skinned and aggro within the genre seem to fear.