Release Date: Sep 21, 2010
Record label: Young God Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise-Rock
For being little more than a blip in rock music’s ever-developing history, the impact of No Wave’s short and abrasive smear across New York’s art scene is a continued and seminal presence heard in many of today’s more inspiring and important bands. As nonsensical and unlistenable as much of it was/is, No Wave warranted Brian Eno’s attention, and has since propagated bands like Liars, These Are Powers and Mi Ami to name a few, noise constructivists that envision No Wave’s boundlessness of sound as opportunity to net aural complaint, or simply blow minds. As Michael Gira’s Swans have reemerged after 13 years of inactivity, it makes perfect sense that he would want to pursue the opportunities this band has historically offered.
After a 13-year hiatus Swans prove they've still got it Michael Gira’s decision to revive Swans after a 13-year hiatus pays dividends with this striking, often startling, album that marries the brutalism of ‘Greed’, the lyricism of ‘Love Of Life’ and ‘Soundtracks Of The Blind’’s bold experimentation. The charmingly-titled ‘You Fucking People Make Me Sick’ features a creepy turn by Gira protégé Devendra Banhart, ‘Jim’, a tribute song to musical maverick Foetus, has a wonderfully unexpected ‘na-na-na-na’ chorus, while the cacophonous opening of ‘No Words / No Thoughts’ and the pulverising guitar barrage of ‘Eden Prison’ is beauty at its very bleakest. Make no mistake, Gira has his mojo back and Swans are very much alive.
At one point on My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, legendary Swans frontman Michael Gira proclaims, “I am free from the choking hold/that began in Eden prison”. On another track, shortly thereafter, he croons in his somber baritone, “Please open my mind and take what’s left”. When thinking about the lyrics of most songwriters, debates about the nature of free will in a supposedly fallen universe don’t normally cross one’s mind.
The first Swans album in 13 years opens with church bells. They’re the kind of bells you don’t hear too much in suburban America anymore — the kind that don’t ring, but toll. Maybe the bells are gone because all the churches are in strip malls or on giant campuses too far from anywhere to be heard. Or maybe, as Michael Gira seems convinced, they’re gone because if we listened to those bells, and to all the other parts of the past we’ve conveniently forgotten, we wouldn’t like what they remind us of.
The earnestness with which Michael Gira has thrown himself into the task of reviving the Swans (he resolutely doesn’t consider it a reunion) has resulted in an extensive tour, to follow the release of this brand new album. Reasonably enough, the new lineup have posed for some photos, which you ….
After Michael Gira disbanded the brutal, beautiful Swans in 1997, he did anything but go quietly into the mists of avant rock legend. He ran his label Young God, wrote and published fiction, formed and cut half a dozen albums with Angels of Light, and produced and released recordings by numerous acts, including the first offerings by Devendra Banhart. Gira reconvened the Swans project for My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, eight songs that pick up in part where 1997's Soundtracks for the Blind left off, while remaining firmly in the present with the influence of Angels of Light and his solo records in the mix.
Despite having declared the group permanently dead in the past, Michael Girl insists that Swans’s new album is not a reunion. His discomfort with that term seems significant, characteristic both of a continuous refusal to conform to convention and a savvy understanding of what the word suggests. Reunions have a connotation of creative death, the distillation of a band’s extant image reanimated into a shade of its former self.
The earnestness with which Michael Gira has thrown himself into the task of reviving the Swans (he resolutely doesn’t consider it a reunion) has resulted in an extensive tour, to follow the release of this brand new album. Reasonably enough, the new lineup have posed for some photos, which you can see for yourself on the Young God Records website and which are magnificently sinister, without any obvious effort to be so. They look like police station mugshots of people arrested for crack possession; Christoph Hahn may have been carved from sandstone and Norman Westberg, whose tenure in the band dates as far back as 1983, appears to have had the same Ian Rush-esque moustache for the last 25 years.
Review Summary: Swans return, bigger and more frightening than everThank heavens Swans decided to break up (or call it quits for fourteen years, at least) after Soundtracks for the Blind, because can you even imagine if they tried to continue like that? With that scattershot, whatever-sticks, we-can-basically-do-anything mentality? Swans would just get way too huge; not in popularity, but just in general immenseness. They would eventually release an album that really did everything, and then everything else would just seem minor in comparison. There wouldn't even be need for any other bands, for any other music, if Swans could just do it all.
Swans debuted in the early 1980s with the starkest and ugliest music imaginable: Nerve-shreddingly slow and plug-your-ears loud, somewhere between no wave and doom metal, with lyrics that viewed humanity as a sheep-like mass that deserved whatever horror came its way. Melody, nuance, and gentleness came later, but by then it was too late. Swans' rep as unrepentant industrial brutalists had stuck.
If we do ever see an apocalypse, when the dust has settled and the few survivors gather up scraps to construct bars and living quarters -- in that order -- once they get the wiring down, this is the album that'll play on the jukebox. Maybe the only album. Michael Gira's My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, with the reassembled Swans, sounds gutted out.
If David Browne's Sonic Youth bio was to be believed, Swans, who emerged from the same noise-filled no wave scene in New York's early 80s as Thurston Moore, had a rotating cast of nasty-tempered psychotic rockers, with multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira at its centre. Listening to Swans' new album, the first in 14 years, you get the sense that some of that malevolence remains. [rssbreak] Opener No Words/No Thoughts sets the tone with a crescendo of horrific grinding noises rising over a death-march beat.
A majestic return and, let us hope, a harbinger of more to come. Louis Pattison 2010 Swans, rightly, have a fearsome reputation. Born in 1982 out of the flux of New York’s artistic, abrasive no-wave scene, they quickly became a byword for rock-in-extremity, songs like Raping a Slave and Time Is Money (Bastard) hurricanes of sound atop which frontman Michael Gira declaimed transgressive lyrics in guttural bellows.