Albums of the Decade: Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type, 2010)


For our first foray into some of my favourite records of the decade thus far we start at the beginning in 2010; HearFeel was still two years away from being formed and I was only really starting to explore Ambient seriously so I never experienced Going Places around its release date, indeed I had no idea Yellow Swans even existed at the time and came across their work several years later, but its emotional brilliance transcends time even if its greatest power was in that moment. Wrought as a posthumous release two years after their official disbanding, Going Places is the final chapter in the band’s storied discography, and since it’s a post-death creation it has all the incredible power of hindsight and emotional maturity that you’d expect.

Make no mistake this is a Noise and Drone release and I was deeply hesitant in listening to this in my formative years, but this record has a catharsis and emotional complexity that is scarcely seen with this scale and less so with this clarity of expression. The titles give away the record’s surficial feelings and sentiments without even getting into the music, with “New Life”, “Limited Space” and “Opt Out” all hinting at the need for change and redirection, of the yearning for something new. Indeed, these more overt pieces are perhaps the most brooding and needy of all here; after the roiling opener of “Foiled”, proceeding with the morbid and inexorable funereal march of a percussive heartbeat leading its rising banks of tumultuous noise, the 13 minute behemoth of “Opt Out” is a mind bending crescendo of threatening miasma, a fascinating rush of encroaching obliteration that bubbles quite literally out of a swampy mire of depressing sonic existence, filled with a barely confined rage that bends thick guitar lines to its emotional wrath, seeking escape through whatever means.

“Limited Space” similarly lives up to its namesake, pushing the envelope of its limitations with increasing levels of confidence as delicate bells ring out like SONAR pulses, probing its edges blindly, suffused in a stuffy and claustrophobic haze that seems to bleed out into the vacuum beyond. Its multi-textural components syncronise across its span to find that perfect resonance with which to shake the walls down and break free,  but its closing moments fill with thick and brash guitar drones frustrated at their continued failure. It actually finds itself sandwiched between the most reserved tracks of the album, and that seems to amplify its frustrations in a way; “Sovereign” is the most diffuse of the lot, lost in ethereal clouds of drone and sputtering noise attempting to regain individual control over its own existence, whilst “New Life” finds a tiny sense of hope and optimism in its glimmering tones backdropped by a grey drone sky. It’s sort of indistinct and woozy, on the cusp of realising its dream of freedom but lacking in the power to do so.

That true breakthrough moment is the titular closer, and by god what a finalé this piece is. It may genuinely be my favourite album closer of all time, a 9 minute juggernaut of pure catharsis, a gathering storm of impassioned rage, anxiety and pain, its wailing walls of suffocating guitar drone and human screams encapsulating the dark hurt of separation, the fear of the imminently unfamiliar independence the future proffers and the inescapable feeling of relief in release. It materialises from a quiet lull as it steels itself, cumulating its sequestered desires and turning its murky plans and jittery hesitations into a perfectly devastating tsunami of bombarding emotions that cuts through flesh and sinew and bone, peeling and ripping away into the bleak and hazy loneliness of singularity at its conclusion. It’s so fucking raw, so visceral, it’s impossible not to get swept up in this blitzkrieg of perfectly realised necessary hurt.

It’s terrifying in its sympathetic horror; from its towering peaks of blazing outward catharsis right down to its quietly frustrated ruminations we’re never left with a moment in which we’re not caught up in the emotional crossfire. It is complex emotional brilliance with a singular vision that attacks from all sides and I love it for that; it may seem like an imposing choice and a challenging listen for most, but the journey is well worth it; seldom will you find a record of this kind with so much to give.

Next week (8th November) we’ll continue on with 2011, and what a year for music that was. Hope you guys will stick around; this record is great but the best are still to come.