Faces by Punching SwansRelease date: October 26, 2018
Label: Skingasm Records
Punching Swans‘ new effort Faces is strung along a loose concept. A trail of blood, if you will. Each tune concerns a serial killer named for some apparent facial manifestation of their evil nature. We’re not talking about a sober reckoning with the darker impulses here but a lurid parade of comic book villains laced with the absurd. Arriving handily just in time for Hallowe’en Faces is like a slasher movie binge, a ride through the haunted house soundtracked by some tense, wary noise rock.
‘Bloodface’ kicks things off with barked vocals and chopped, clean guitars. It’s down at the post punk end of their surprisingly wide raging sound. ‘AreolaFace’ is more of the shrieking, screaming horror show you might expect while ‘StrobeFace’ contrasts quieter sections of menace with wailing spasms. The dark secret lurking in the shadows at the side of the stage is that Faces is not actually the gory bucket of distortion and screaming you might have marked it for at first glance. Punching Swans are an accomplished trio with a range of influences fully integrated into their sound. They stretch out a bit on the long and nimble ‘Coralface’, a sorry tale of “how I came to be, a creature of the sea”. It shifts around with math rock smarts subtly deployed to great effect.
Back on the more direct tip ‘GraterFace’ is the album’s absolute winner, two minutes of yelping, rolling, punk rock with a nod to their love for The Fall. It’s a companion to the following ‘LadyCheeseface’, a doomed romance (“she’s melting, she’s melting”) which might just take the ‘best title’ crown here – although ‘FaceFace’ has a certain stubborn inevitability to it. ‘FaceFace’ possesses a tightly locked riff to match its title that eventually fractures and spools out before it builds again with great economy. Final track ‘GodFace’ sees them let out their post rock side on a calmer more introspective number that’s all but instrumental.
Punching Swans. It’s a great name isn’t it? Visceral, transgressive, abject but still just about carrying a charge of swan’s otherworldly beauty. It has a sense of foolhardy misadventure, something drunken and parochial about it. You know it’d be wrong to punch a swan and you’d be unlikely to emerge from it unscathed, or in any sense victorious. There’s an Englishness about the band that’s hard to pin down, a weird tension between the subject matter and the music. You get the feeling Peel would have loved them but their appeal might not have reached all that much further than his audience. If Faces doesn’t quite match up to the promise of their name it’s still a good album with some great moments. We’ve yet to see the best of them I feel.