Perhaps the best thing about this gripping debut is that, far from being a comedown from the superb high with which Swans ended, Number One of Three in fact demonstrates that Gira is taking even more risks with his music, ones which pan out beautifully. Conceived and structured as one long piece divided into ten untitled parts, One captures the extreme intensity which defined Swans in a new fashion: it completely avoids lyrics in favor of instrumental flow, build, and atmosphere, from solo acoustic guitar to a full-on band attack, with instrumentation ranging from flugelhorn to hammered dulcimer to melodica, all carefully interwoven throughout. Gira has often been quoted about his love for composers Glenn Branca and Arvo Pärt, and there are definite hints of both in the combination of electric intensity and lengthy minimalism. (The closing minutes of the first track alone are worth the price: layers of screeching guitars and effects finally collapsing into a distorted drone, shading into the accordion which begins the next track.) This said, many moments are gentle, sometimes with just keyboards and electronic textures, though in the same way that Swans songs like "Failure" could be at once low-key and still razor-sharp as opposed to easy listening. What vocals do appear, aside from a very brief Gira lyric near the end, are wordless; one notable instance features a loop of Jarboe crying which sounds thoroughly heartbroken and lost. Even this is minor compared to the album's most stunning sequence: when the bone-chilling shriek of an infant boy captured during his circumcision ceremony plays over a soft percussion/keyboard bed. Even without knowing the source of the cries, the sheer, unsettling creeps that it generates are palpable. A brave, inspiring album, One clearly demonstrates that Gira's decision to start over musically was clearly the correct one.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett