Yellow Swans: Going Places

Yellow Swans, always progressive in their approach to the noise/melody duality, do an especially good job here of making pretty and even tuneful songs that still have that tear-your-face-off quality.

Yellow Swans

Going Places

Label: Type
US Release Date: 2010-03-02
UK Release Date: 2010-03-08

The final LP from the Portland noise/improve duo Yellow Swans has titles indicating either that they feel trapped (“Foiled”, “Limited Space”), or that they’ve decided to change course and look forward to the future (“Opt Out”, “New Life”, “Going Places”). That’s the nature of titles for instrumental music. They work as framing devices, whether the intention is joking or serious.

Since 2001, Yellow Swans have amassed such a body of work that it seems like their discography will elude completist collectors for years to come. Once a band is gone, the meaning of that collecting changes from following to remembering. The band gets a new life. The "so long, it’s been good to know you” vibe of Going Places’s song titles seems an indication of the multiple purposes and meanings in the album’s status as their last.

Musically, it seems no elegy or closing bookend. It’s as restless and creative as the duo have ever been. In some ways, it’s even more so, as Yellow Swans, always progressive in their approach to the noise/melody duality, do an especially good job here of making pretty and even tuneful songs that still have that tear-your-face-off quality.

Going Places starts quiet but not monolithic. “Foiled” is foggy atmosphere, but with a stick-like percussion sound, formed of static, pushing along like a train or mechanical force. It clears out at the end, giving way to a wind that feels electric. The 13-minute “Opt Out” starts similar, with an eerie balance of misty mood and moving parts, but builds in intensity, courtesy of more typically ‘noise’-y blasts of static. It carries a tune like a film score might, and continues to do so while they’re ripping and roaring against our eardrums. That fierce progression makes it cathartic in more ways than one.

This tightrope between sharpness and immersive soundscape, between control and chaos, composition and randomness, is walked throughout the album, and of course those are all proven to be false dichotomies, or at least it’s clear that Yellow Swans continually destroy those lines. Theirs is very aggressive music, or very pretty aggressive music. A track like “Limited Space” contains rage of some sort, or at least a heavy sense of distilled foreboding. But the stride of it is also quite majestic, and the specifics quite diverse; a junkbox of chimes, fuzz, what could be guitars sweeping across the desert, and what could be a film-score composer leading a group of string players. Those chime-like sounds remind me of the railroad again, either the clanging of the crossing signal or the sound of hammers hitting steel as the tracks were constructed, out of sweat and blood no doubt.

That image in turn evokes the pain and promise of expansion, of moving forward, of going places. The final notes of Going Places are more electrifying and horrifying than mechanical or steadfast. They leave us in a cloud, a cloud of echo.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.