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Feel Good Now (Atavistic)

This is the sound of drowning in your own lungs. This is concussion and suffocation, the shambolic waste of the perpetual drunk thrashing desperately to stay afloat and swallowing greedily when he slips under the surface. This is the hacking, dry-heaving moment of willful, welcome negation. This is the long unbroken stare into crusted weary eyes that wonder at still being alive despite the self-inflicted damage. This is the horrific splendor of Swans during the dying days of the '80s, when they were killing themselves to create something beautiful.

Feel Good Now is not an artistic depiction of darkness, it is darkness and hopelessness and absolute numbness brought on by an unending flurry of crushing blows. Michael Gira's voice rivals Ian Curtis' for lifeless surrender to despair. The music is insensate truth -- massive bludgeoning waves that flatten everything in their path. Powered by Ted Parsons' majestic, pummeling drums and Algis Kizys' sepulchral bass, Swans crash and roll through an almost subsonic world of tones. Only Gira's voice, his monochromatic proclamations of repulsion and horror, could cut through the drone. He is a depressive beacon of torment and sorrow shining amid the ruins. The near-relentless assault is stilled briefly while female vocalist Jarboe soothes Gira with her dulcet voice and tender piano. "Say you'll do anything for me," she sings. "Hold on ... I'll be your body when your body is broken," she promises -- in a song titled "Blackmail." Even in this moment of respite, there is cruelty. Jarboe fades into memory and Swans resume their punishing drive, Gira howling and roaring, the band smashing against him.

And yet, despite its palpable nihilism, Feel Good Now is beautiful because Gira lives. "Listen to me cry! Listen to me!" he screams into the silence at the end of the album. That need to have someone hear him, that need to be acknowledged by someone, anyone else -- that is the sound of life. Feel Good Now may not be a heartwarming triumph of the human spirit, but it's an undeniably powerful document of life edging out death by a slim, precious margin.

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