Black Swan – Things Before, Volume One (1999-2001)
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If Black Swan In 8 Movements represented the masking of a new superhero, Things Before will be the origins film…
Built from song fragments that precede Black Swan’s July 2010 premiere by a decade, Things Before, Volume One (1999-2001) has no track cuts or index. This way segments recorded in early 1999 might overlap with others recorded nearly three years later, in winter 2001. But give the artist this much credit, that we come away from the performance like we would have a concerto of similar length. The stitching does not show; the garment does not look like patchwork. It may as well have been a 29-minute movement written as a single composition in June. But which June? In other words, is this a Black Swan release? The artist himself posed the question on Facebook.
The album (in digital format only, at least for now) seems to have drawn from five main sketches, anywhere from four to eight minutes in length. The dry, condensed guitar of the opening minutes answers the question at once. It would be difficult to place this as Black Swan’s work without the name attached. There is the hint of tape noise and the light bedding of ambient down, but the distant, tangible, all-but-rockabilly guitar and the cattle-drive tempo hauls the listener far away from New York. Take your favorite fifty-something novelist and imagine reading his doctorate thesis and you’re close. It’s not like the early material sounds like some kind of impostor, but the orchestral thread that runs between the four full-length albums, the “symphony of misery and sorrow” as he called The Quiet Divide, is really only hinted throughout.
The most familiar ground is the fourth segment, starting at about 12:45, although the idea behind the bells and fog of the third (10:15) would go on to form his most memorable album opener, The Quiet Divide. 12’45″ is an extended passage of lost-source ambient, somewhat returning us to the frozen tempos and unique luster that identify his later works. At approximately 20:00 the curtains start to close with a metallic guitar extract, no more similar to or different from Aeterna than is, say, the work of Eric Quach. Consider this a stand-alone release and not a collection of B-sides or rarities, which can often be disastrous. It is confident, abstract, a bit moody, and — at $4 USD — a steal. It just sounds very little like the Swan’s previous material.
This series promises to be a complex puzzle, and this installment is an alluring first piece.
- Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio