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Swans: The Stuff That Fuels Nightmares

Kat’s Music and Comics Corner Vol. 2 Issue #3

One of my favorite and least favorite songs (you’ll understand why as you read on) is 93 Ave. Blues by Swans. You know the kind of music that you listen to whenever you’re anxious and need to be in a chill mood to study for an upcoming exam or the kind of music that brings you to a calm level of being and puts you in a peaceful state? This ain’t that kind of music. The kind of music you would hear in some circle of hell, or if the financial aid office was a song, this is it.

Swans are known for their creepy, longwinded music that gives off ominous vibes, but this song in particular really stuck with me after I heard it and I often return to it whenever I want to simulate a horror-like atmosphere. In this song, there’s some groaning that sounds like the voices of tortured souls that are being eternally damned. It’s pretty unpleasant. But even worse than those are the violins. Oh my goodness, the violins. When I think of violins I think of the pretty Outer Sailor Scout themes of Mercury and Uranus from Sailor Moon from childhood nostalgia, but Swans are far removed from sparkle transformations and spaghetti meatball buns. They’re in a whole other realm of musical (dis)pleasure. Yet it’s strange how something so disturbing can be so oddly satisfying. I remember how off-putting this song was to me on my first listen. I had found out about this song through one of my favorite comic book writers (The Wicked + The Divine), Kieron Gillen. He has a Spotify playlist entitled Ten Candles, and 93 Ave. Blues is on it. I happened to listen to it and was extremely weirded and creeped out by the cacophony of terror emanating from my laptop. I thought to myself, “What strange sounds have defiled my ears?” But then I thought, man, this would make some great Halloween music and I have actually personally utilized it in a similar way. I told some scary stories to my family with this song playing in the background and it was a trip. We were laughing throughout which really defused the tension that usually builds when this song is playing, but being in a dark attic helped to raise some arm hairs.

So maybe, in lieu of cheesy ghost moans, witches’ cackles, or another year of playing “Monster Mash” at your Halloween costume party, maybe give this song a chance to play and see how the response is from your guests. And to make it more fun, turn off the lights and pretend there’s a power outage, have another friend dress up as a creepy dog with human teeth and black, soulless eyes and boom, you’re gonna have a grand ol’ time scaring the living daylights out of your friends and family.

You should at least give one listen to 93 Ave. Blues just to experience a Swans song. Also, to heal your fearful, beating heart listen to the track “Song for a Warrior” afterward as a form of recovery. It’s from the same album as 93 Ave. Blues, The Seer. It’s a complete 360 from 93 Ave. Blues. It features Karen O., the frontwoman of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The music is fairy magic, plain and simple, and not even just by comparison. It’s a delight to listen to Karen’s sweet and special vocals with some guitar and piano and other ambient musical sounds. So before this Halloween, have a little bit of devil and a little bit of angel in your music mix, you won’t regret it (hopefully).

– Kathryn “Kat” Fornier