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Album Of The Week

Dangerous Visions: Type II By Sex Swing
Adam Lehrer , May 7th, 2020 08:55

The new Sex Swing album may be punishing and disquieting, but there is a point to all the sickness and gore, finds Adam Lehrer

The closing track off of London-based psych-noise rock band Sex Swing’s second full-length album, Type II, is called ‘Garden of Eden – 2000 AD‘. The song is a slow-build. A slovenly paced snare drum leads to a simple, muted guitar chord progression when singer Dan Chandler's breathy, monotone, Peter Murphy-esque vocals start to lurk over the surface of the sound, punctuated by saxophonist Colin Webster’s melodious squalls of tenor. The song lesiurely constructs itself atop that initial rhythmic swirl. It’s like rock ‘n’ roll approximated as initiate to an occultist ceremony

And then, around the seven minute marker, it explodes.

Guitar feedback lights the speakers ablaze. Webster starts skronking his horn like he’s Ayler in the throes of amphetamine psychosis, imprisoned in an imaginary cell made of panic.

There is a cathartic religiosity to the music of Sex Swing. During this era of sorrow and anxiety, Sex Swing remind us of the restorative powers of rock. Julia Kristeva said that melancholia results when religion fails to rationalise the immensity of one’s loss. But Type II, with all its ritualised cathartic sound, can also be a last line of defence between you and infinite sorrow. It forges a protective layer of blissfully thick and spastic psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll that lends you its strength and grasps you tight, preventing you from slipping deeper into that black abyss. This is violent and chaotic rock music that can help you make sense of the world.

Sex Swing is a heavy psych supergroup of sorts, resplendent with members of other godly acts of the British rock ‘n’ roll underground: Dethscalator, Mugstar, Bannacons of Doom, and even the Earth touring unit all share members with the mighty Sex Swing. The group’s self-titled debut was released way back in 2016 (on none other than The Quietus Phonographic Corporation) and in retrospect seemed like it fully realised the potential of the rock wing of that ‘New Weird Britain’ pioneered by the likes of Gnod, Terminal Cheesecake, Hey Colossus, and others.

Sex Swing, the album, was like a pyroclastic flow of mutant post-punk, demonic no wave, and exalted psych. Like its appropriately abject album cover designed by artist Alex Bunn, Sex Swing’s debut seemed to ooze with putrid streams of dense sonic bile. It was rock ‘n’ roll that threatened a breakdown between subject and object, sound that rubbed your mortality in your face. Some of our greatest literature, from Dostoyevsky to Céline, manifested as a purifier of the abject. Sex Swing was a rock record that also functioned as just such a purifier.

Type II is also emblazoned with an image designed by the aforementioned Bunn. Like its predecessor, the image depicts a formless grotesque mound of nondescript flesh, like something out of Bataille. But unlike its predecessor, it is coloured in muted shades of blues and purples, as opposed to the slimy greens of the debut. In the Bible, blue is the colour of the healing power of God himself. The most sublime of all the colours, blue is literally the power and presence of Yahweh.

Many listeners will credit Type II with the maturation and increased accessibility of Sex Swing’s sound. That wouldn’t be an inaccurate critique. But it doesn’t address the fact that Sex Swing hasn’t actually diminished in ferocity since their last album. What they’ve been able to do though is tighten their dirges into soaring anthemic hymns that aspire to the transcendental. This undercurrent of bliss functions as a kind of anti-cathexis that binds the band’s more brutally primitive impulses. While the band still makes use of punishing rhythmic repetition, the album seems less concerned with malfeasance than it does with connecting the human spirit with some ethereal element that binds us together. It’s, oddly enough, an uplifting record that taps into the mysticism at the core of much experimental musics, from motorik krautrock to free jazz to electronic music to feedback-drenched caveman psych.

A hypnotic bit of synthetic sound rings in album opener ‘The Passover’ and relaxes the listener into a false sense of security before they are pulverised by an onslaught of psychedelic guitar and Chandler's robotic vocals. There is an uptempo grooviness to the song that was buried under the sickening noise of the band’s debut album. Lots of thumping bass lines and angular guitar licks, the gloomily anthemic quality of the chanted and harmonised vocals: “PASSOVER, PASSOVER”. It’s like This Heat in that it’s less a mixture of genres than it is a zone of sonic potentialities.

At the five minute marker, Sex Swing’s trademark maelstrom achieves peak intensity. The guitars erupt, the rhythms sputter out, the volume is maximised. Libidinal and malevolent energies alike are expelled. In the video for the song, images of Bunn’s sickening constructions are spliced with a scene shot from the front of a car traveling down a road illuminated under the harsh glare of the headlights. It’s eerily reminiscent of the scene in Twin Peaks: The Return that leads up to the introduction of Agent Dale Cooper’s evil twin Mr. C. The video, like the song, emphasises a certain duality of man. 

“Fuck,” I thought when I first heard it. “This really, really rocks.”

The down-tuned, chugging guitar riffs that open up ‘Skimmington Ride’ actually reminded me of the first couple of Korn albums. I know that might sound derisive to some, but I don’t mean it negatively. Like the Bakersfield, CA nu-metallers, Sex Swing have managed to create a space where aggression, vulnerability and a kind of warped funkiness can coexist. Though Chandler's voice most resembles Rozz Williams’ seductive and airy raso, there are times when he sounds a bit like Jonathan Davis; equally high-pitched and growly, anguished and aggressive. Feminine and masculine.

When the drums and bass finally kick in, the band achieves a Kyuss level of drugged tightness, locked into the mesmerism of rock ‘n’ roll. The band members’ consciousnesses arise from their bodies and coalesce in the ether. The sax ups the ante a bit, bringing in a level of sensuousness to the evil. Live Evil. Like electric Miles mainlining libidinal energy. A psychedelic deathrock hydra: many heads, many sounds, one unified subjectivity.

‘Valentine’s Day at the Gym’, arguably the most potent track on the record, opens with some washes of electronic sound before Chandler's drawn out vocals make way for an eerie horn line. Finally, after about ninety seconds, a formidable riff evocative of death blues kicks in and the tempo picks up. The synths that lurk in the background imbue the song with an unnatural presence, seductive but disquieting.

‘La Riconada’ has a delightfully schizoid discordance, the kind of angular mania once utilised by the Chicago no wave bands in the 1990s, from Scissor Girls to US Maple, suggesting there are still radical potentialities to be found within the rock form. 

The new Sex Swing album wields a disorienting witchcraft, an amalgam of synthetic sound and rockist power, that strangely reminded me of the tragically overlooked Phoenix-based experimental rock and sound collage band Vampire Rodents, and particularly their first album  War Music. Robert Baird wrote of that record, “the band’s darkly humorous, apocalyptic visions are set to a cyber-aggressive post-industrialist beat, but there is a point to all the sickness and gore.”

Sex Swing, likewise, is not directionless in its ferocity. Psychedelic rock is supposed to be transcendent, after all, but what makes Sex Swing so powerful is that they transcend the limitations of psychedelic rock. Their sound is so full of possibilities: violence, sexuality, sacrifice, even religion. If there was a future to look forward to for heavy guitar music, this is it. Sex Swing: the lost futures of rock n’ roll have been realised. Even the worst, the most terrifying, psychedelic experiences can have transformative potential.