I know I always go on about how it’s difficult to categorize albums, but 49 Swans takes the cake as the most difficult to categorize ever. It has electronic influence, but founding member Al Okada (formerly of King Cobb Steelie) uses only analogue instruments, as opposed to electronics like loop pedals or synthesizers. It has some jazz influence, but also has grunge-y guitars.
Either way, it’s an album that needs to be absorbed with time. Trying to completely comprehend it in one sitting is tremendously difficult. The music can sometimes be so dense that you won’t even realize you’re listening to a new song (this happened to me on both listenings).
It starts out with “Gravity and Air,” which begins with a few deep, ominous notes before launching into drums, guitar, and the breathy vocals of singer Rebecca Campbell which repeat “It’s only water.”
Campbell’s vocals are an interesting part of Microbunny as a whole. Rather than singing over top numerous instruments, her vocals contribute to the atmosphere created by the music.
The song lengths of this album fluctuate wildly. While most bands usually hover around a time frame (usually three to five minutes) these songs can be as short as 1:01 (“Voodoo Slippers”) and as long as 7:03 (“Embers”). The songs are sometimes totally instrumental but still succeed in creating the haunting atmosphere that this album imposes on the listener. In fact, after “Blue September Blues” (one of the few songs where Campbell seems be singing over the music) there is a set of four songs that are all instrumental.
As I said, it will take some time to adjust to this album, as it is not something that you can just sit down, listen to, and instantly comprehend. In fact, listening to this for the first time reminded me of the first time I listened to Radiohead’s Kid A, in that I was overwhelmed. But I ended up loving Kid A, so perhaps the same thing will happen with 49 Swans.
Top Tracks: “Blue September Blues”; “Embers”
3.5 Hoots (out of 4)