Music

Norman Westberg: 13

Almost too obscure to gain any attention the first go-round, Swans guitarist Norman Westberg's 13 enjoys a deserved reissue.


Norman Westberg

13

Label: Room40
US Release Date: 2015-11-13
UK Release Date: 2015-11-13
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Norman Westberg has made a career of gnawing on the out fringes of the no-wave/post-rock/noise-rock scene for so long that it's a bit of a surprise that he doesn't have a larger solo discography by now. After playing guitar in the experimental group Swans for 30 years while lending a hand to the Heroine Sheiks, Sulfur, Sugartime, and Five Dollar Priest, you'd think that someone would have thrust his name to top billing on some release or another long ago. Yet here we are with 13, one of just a few albums to his name, reissued by Room40 after living in obscurity for two years. Recorded in 2013, lasting 31 minutes, and vanishing after all 75 copies of the thing had been sold, people were probably just too caught up in the triumphant Swans reunion to really notice the subtle magic of a tiny release like 13. And there's no guarantee that every Swans fan would be taken by such an album. Just from a glance it appears to have more in common with a Steve Tibbetts release on ECM than anything associated with the ferocious underbelly of early '80s New York City. But fans of noisey genre-bending are, if nothing else, open-minded, meaning that 13 fully awaits their widespread embrace.

But 13 is classified as a guitar album in the same way that your favorite dark comedy could be classified as "funny." First track "Frostbite Falls" is performed on the bowed bass, the following track "Bunny Bill" is played on the electric guitar, and last track "Oops, Wrong Hat" is summoned from an acoustic guitar. But there is so much manipulation and sustain at play here that the source instruments take on a new guise in the long, ambient drones that serve as both the mattress and the bedding for 13. The record is all atmosphere. Westberg doesn't set aside space for anything else; a color without an object or a mood without a story.

This isn't a deficiency; it's an art form. This is the kind of music that stirs the sounds together in hopes of conjuring a new vibration that would otherwise not exist. Unless you are the author of such a work, it's hard to approach such large tracks in any way other than holistically. If you can't recall a particular "moment", then you should at least be able to recall a mindset or a particular sensation from the music. Those who delight in the e-bow side of the six string saga will likely find 13 too short for their liking. If you think that Westberg's music career should begin and end with some brash chords from his Telecaster, then 13 can't end soon enough for you. As stated earlier, there is room in the Swans's scene for the softer side of experimental guitar. Think of it as the falling action at the end of the night after you witness a Swans live set come crashing down on your head.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

7
Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.