Yellow Swans’ 2010 album, Going Places, is a juggernaut of paradox, contradiction, stoner irony, vertiginous heights, mind-erasing intensities, and to my ears, indelible sadness. A sadness combined with the unshakeable awareness of an existential void. It’s confrontational and surprisingly affirming. It will cleanse and annihilate you like a sodium hydroxide colonic. And that, friends, is a good thing.
One of the many pleasures of submitting to Going Places – and this is an album you very much submit to, something perhaps best experienced while lying on the floor in a darkened room – is the unknowability of some of the source material. Wherever these sounds came from (and I imagine it’s from nothing too arcane or occultish), band members Pete Swanson and Gabriel Saloman captured and then distorted and shredded and stretched and prinked and tweaked the holy hell out of them. There’s a singular atmosphere created, something both interstellar and intercellular, as if we were listening to the hurtling edge of our expanding universe and the fission of our cells. I’ve lost myself in this record many times in the ten years that I’ve owned it, and it’s one of a select group that continues to offer up something new whenever I dive back in. The majestic thirteen-minute epic “Opt Out” still gives me fresh goose bumps while it re-fries every last synapse in my skull.
This isn’t a collection of similarly structured tracks that all start quietly, build to a blistering cacophony, and then fade with a “Was that good enough for you?” swagger. The aptly named “Sovereign,” with its steady pulse, somber, keening melody, and barely contained threats of feedback suggests a quiet dominion watched over by an august presence. “Limited Space” with its synced pulse and chiming ceremonial bells conjures up the unstoppable approach of that juggernaut I mentioned in the first sentence, only it’s coming at you and you have nowhere to go. It’s placidly indifferent. You can feel the humid gusts of its breath on your face as it gets closer, yet its arrival ends in a kind of colossal collapse rather than apocalypse, leaving you pressed face to face with a giant, unblinking eye.
The final track, “Going Places,” barely begins, feinting and procrastinating for a minute and a half before the song proper leaves the dock, accompanied by what sounds like the most slowed-down human voice in recorded history and the odd flare of melodic feedback. Setting out toward its nine-minute-mark, the track takes on some thudding bass ballast while a squalling sonic wind kicks up overhead. As that wind begins to gust, shreds of a screaming chorus can be heard, part angelic, part human. The sky darkens. The vessel begins to yaw and pitch as the maelstrom envelopes it. A high-pitched tone rings out – and the song freezes. There is no destination.
Have I mentioned that I love this album?
Anyway, imagine my delight when I heard that Swanson and Saloman had started putting all sorts of Yellow Swans material up on Bandcamp, including not only Going Places but Being There, a supplemental EP – chunks of which were used in the creation of Going Places – that was available in different iterations and formats back in the day. If you liked Going Places, or you’re now curious about it, you know what to do.
While the majority of tracks on Going Places are models of efficiency – trips to the edge of the known and beyond in an average of about five-and-a-half minutes – the four tracks on Being There are extended sixteen-to eighteen-minute raids into sound and un/consciousness. But this isn’t a case of fans-only indulgence on offer. Being There is the sound of artists harnessing the energy of solar flares and making music from them. It has the raw quality of exploration and jamming but also the focus and control of synchronized minds working toward the same thing. It’s raucous and gritty and the exact definition of loud. If you undertake the journey, be sure to strap yourself in tight. Being There will take you further than you might have wanted and leave you with singed eyebrows, smoking hair, and a deranged but satisfied glint in your eyes.