Swans: Oxygen EP

Revealing the true horsepower behind the Swans’ "Oxygen", this four-song collection should be handled by a professional driver on a closed course.
Oxygen EP
Young God / Mute

Accounting for eight of To Be Kind’s 120-minute run time, “Oxygen”, from Michael Gira and company’s Swans, cruised along at a steady third-gear groove, its RPMs only breaching 3,000 once the barking vocals and jazzy horn blasts surfaced in earnest just before the song’s midpoint, finally reaching redline status in its final 30 seconds. Now released as a four-song EP, “Oxygen” is presented in various models, providing an under-the-hood look at the song’s craftsmanship that refuses to adhere to any lean manufacturing principles used in assembly line productions.

Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records, shuns fuel efficiency on his edited version of “Oxygen”, going from zero to 60 in less than 30 seconds. Trimming the original’s paced, organic groove, Miller merges the song right into the passing lane, shortening its commute to just three minutes.

Recorded during the Swans’ performance at Spain’s Primavera festival, the live version is the longest of the EP’s versions, broaching the seven minute mark. Braking for a brief idle before the horns come in, the Spanish crowd urges Gira et al on to a full throttle victory lap, resulting in the most faithful rendition of the song’s recorded original.

The early demo recorded by Gira at home, is the EP’s most organic moment. An aural test drive of a no-frills prototype, Gira, with an acoustic guitar, shifts gears up and down, in no hurry. A separate acoustic version recorded at London, England’s StudioMute finds Gira presenting “Oxygen” more as a concept car than a finished project. More drawn out than the early demo, the menace of the recorded version is present here even without the road noise from the other band members, courtesy of Gira’s erratic, bluesy delivery.

Despite none of the four versions here reaching the original’s length, the Oxygen EP is not fuel efficient enough for the daily commute and provides more torque than required for a Sunday drive. Revealing the true horsepower behind “Oxygen”, this collection should be handled by a professional driver on a closed course.

RATING 8 / 10