Punching Swans are back with their new album Nesting and I’m delighted to say the band is as visceral and phrenetic as ever. With a release date set for the 22nd January, the trio follow last year’s ‘Mollusc’ with a peculiar and primal sojourn into the world of ornithology. Although the new album is a little darker than their previous efforts, Punching Swans have lost none of their robust eccentricity. Nesting is a fascinating record, dissonant and immersive, constantly shifting between electrifying whimsy and astonishing tenacity. It’s a delicate balance, but one that Punching Swans seem to embrace; satisfyingly original and played with a conviction that I found truly irresistible.
Nesting follows the story (and do forgive the quotation- I want to get this correct) of ‘a man with a tortured upbringing is ostracised by his local village and then takes up residence in the local woods. He escapes from his gloom through an obsession with transforming himself in to a bird-man.’ Of course, we’ve all been there. Although this reads a touch bizarre, on record it makes perfect sense and as a concept is truly brilliant. It is unusual but under the surface the album imparts a desolate absurdist fairy tale perfect for the modern world. The wrought and twisted tension of the subject matter is reflected delicately through the distorted, whirling subtlety of the songs.
To compliment these elements the record is punctuated with some wonderful moments, with Squawks, Cuckoos and Screeches mixed in among the lyrics. This isn’t exactly surprising with song titles like “Cuckoo Cuckold K-Killed”, “Pigeon Street” and “Beak Throat”, but (like the idiot that I am) I didn’t read the concept before I listened. Initially these whistles, Coo’s and general birdyness of the record seemed a little curious of outlandish. In hindsight I realise that they are exceptional reflections of the story and once given context are something entirely more substantial.
However, as fantastic as this concept is, it would be disservice to the music to concentrate purely on the story. Punching Swans are incredibly tight musicians, rhythmically perfect and the record moves at such an irresistible pace. Pablo Paganotto’s infectious primordial drums anchor the tracks and complement the crisscross of Joe Wise and Greg Webster’s respective bass and guitar parts, drawing the listener forward into the sweepingly rich textures. The songs are catchy and immersive, punchy technicality bustling behind the vocals and always shifting musically to surprise the listener. Webster’s excellent production ensures that the layers of noise are cutting and bright, providing a fair representation of the band’s live sound. Long story short, it’s very nicely done.
The album is a teasing, addictive affair which bounces and crunches through some of the best new music of the year. I have some real favourite moments on the album, and while I won’t go into detail I really must mention the wonderful music-box lullaby that surprised me in its shockingly simple beauty. Nesting pulls you into its world and keeps your attention throughout. Punching Swans new album would absolutely get full marks from me as I adore the record, but some listeners may find the concept a touch inaccessible, hence the 4/5. It really is a remarkable listen and I honestly can’t recommend it enough. The 22nd January can’t come soon enough!