Release Date: Jun 17, 2016
Record label: Young God
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Musical careers rarely end with clean resolutions, which makes sense given that bands usually don’t get to plan their own exits. And even when they do, farewell gestures tend to leave a lingering taste of anticlimax. The Glowing Man, the final album by the current lineup of Swans, marks an exception to this rule, much as Swans have broken pretty much all modern rock norms.
Pulverising NYC no(ise)-wavers return in triumph. This incarnation of Michael Gira’s no-wave crusaders have produced a vast amount of music over the past six years, a feat only slightly overshadowed by the truly devastating live shows that saw new material being warped into ever more disorientating shapes. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads .
It had to end eventually. Six years after Michael Gira resurrected his pivotal drone outfit Swans in 2010, the time has come to lay them to rest. Over the past three decades, the eldritch New York-based band — led by Gira, keyboardist/vocalist Jarboe, and guitar wizard Norman Westberg — have expanded the boundaries of what we call “heavy music,” slowly morphing from a creeping no-wave outfit (on 1982’s Filth) into a muddied noise-rock group (circa 1987’s Children of God) and then, most recently, into symphonic rock villains.
The Glowing Man is to be the final release from Swans in their current incarnation. Since reforming the band in 2010, Michael Gira has led them through a series of spectacular musical explorations, each of which has evolved their sound. Opened by two “prayers” as Gira describes them, The Glowing Man finds Swans slightly loosened in comparison to previous releases; as if the pre-emptive catharsis of their imminent reinvention has already begun to permeate Gira’s writing.
Following the unprecedented critical and commercial success of Swans' double-album masterworks The Seer and To Be Kind -- the latter of which reached the Top 40 of both the U.S. and U.K. album charts -- Michael Gira announced that the existing iteration of the band would only produce one more album and tour. The Glowing Man, as with its predecessors, is a sprawling two-hour epic containing lengthy compositions that the band developed during their momentous tours (and documented their progress on limited double-CDs released on their website in order to raise funds for the proper albums).
Ever since Michael Gira reunited his band for 2010's My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, his work as Swans has tended toward increasingly baroque expressions, compounding unvarnished drone minimalism into dizzying configurations. Symphonic in scope, these albums have built on the already-imposing density of Gira's earlier work, with a pair of double albums (2012's The Seer and 2014's To Be Kind) breaking new ground in terms of overall intricacy, heft, and expressively conveyed intensity. This grand approach to songwriting continues to push the limits of the album format on The Glowing Man, touted as the final outing of this stage of the group's career, which fittingly finds them going out with a fairly exhausting bang.
Swans take their time. Their music reflects a unique patience and resilience that sets them apart from other experimental groups. Their history, too, is just as vast, spanning 34 years, 14 albums, and several stylistic and lineup shifts to account for it. Frontman Michael Gira has remained the constant guide throughout it all.
The Glowing Man is the 14th studio album by Michael Gira's Swans, the fourth since they've returned from hiatus and the last, according to Gira, that will feature a formal lineup. From here on out, Swans will include "a revolving cast of collaborators."That's not the worst thing. Like a nostalgic photograph, the dynamic art-rock here is trademark Gira; it might be a long way from 1983 debut Filth, but the band don't stray too far from post-rock's beaten path here.
Imagine transcribing an incremental play-by-play of a Swans album. It might read like a snuff film recap. Here, for instance, is how you might describe “The Glowing Man,” the penultimate track from the band’s 14th album of the same name: three-and-a-half minutes of unsettling ambient noise; 30 seconds of wordless, satanic throat-singing as the drums crash in; two minutes of Michael Gira babbling “No! No! No! No! No! No! Yes! No!!”; then five minutes of relentless, cacophonous rhythmic lurches—and that’s just the first 10 minutes.
Michael Gira's post-2010 version of Swans chokes the air like a storm in a southern gothic nightmare, the slow-motion onslaught unrelenting as it chases restless dreamers around dark corners and long hallways. But there is ecstasy as well, just as there is terror in a puritan's pulpit. On The Glowing Man, Gira revives the role of dark preacher from his 2012 and 2014 masterpieces The Seer and To Be Kind, repeating incantations, stretching syllables to hypnotize a flock that can't help but walk towards the grinding machinery of death.
The 14th album from New York art-bruisers Swans is the third thumbscrew twist in a series of roughly two-hour, two-CD epics, joining 2012'sThe Seer and 2014's To Be Kind as another journey into transcendence or tedium, depending on your tolerance for expressionist rock marathons. It's also the final album with the line-up that's given Swans more critical acclaim and commercial success than any other point in a nearly 35-year history -- a would-be triumphant curtain call ultimately overshadowed by a recent sexual assault allegation aimed at leader Michael Gira. For Swans fans, the 20-minute "Frankie M" – which approached the half-hour mark when opening their live shows throughout 2015 – alone makes this LP as essential as anything they've done in their current iteration.
Tiny Mix Tapes was thrown into something of a behind-the-scenes tizzy last month when it emerged that Beyoncé, that unimpeachable icon of feminine empowerment and liberation, was reportedly making more than a few bucks out of female sweatshop labor in Sri Lanka. Given that we’d joined the rest of the Free World in praising her latest album to the hilt, this news caused something of a stir in our “office,” re-confronting us with the age-old question of whether we can or should divorce ourselves from the political and ethical ramifications of an artist’s life when appreciating their art. In Beyoncé’s case, this isn’t perhaps a difficult question to answer, if only because Bey had already brought politics and ethics into her work by using a narrative of (female/black) manumission to brand and sell it.
"Usually—I have no other way to describe it—I’m in a sort of vacant state, fooling around on my guitar, and suddenly images start flowing through me. It starts with a phrase or two, then just grows like kudzu on a tree, feeding on hapless me, the unwitting host. I’ve used the conceit of calling the person or entity that inhabits me at these moments Joseph—even wrote a song for him on the record—but in truth I don’t understand the process at all.
On stage the normally stoic, meditative Michael Gira performs as a sort of mad conductor, gyrating and flailing with what’s to be perceived as the primal, cathartic release of Swans’ music. Omniscient crescendos pile one atop the other as Gira’s possessed body movements often work independently of a track’s overall thrum. The whole production borders on performance art, and has only been honed by the collective’s recent trio of records.
The Upshot: Two-disc culmination of the direction the band has taken since its reactivation seven years ago, stripping Michael Gira’s lyric themes to the core amid colossal walls of sound. If you’re gonna announce that your latest album is the last by this particular iteration of your band, you better have something special on your hands. Fortunately, Michael Gira does with The Glowing Man, the fourteenth album by his band Swans and, as advertised, the final project by this version.
Swans — The Glowing Man (Young God)“It’s scary to imagine where this band could go from here. Scary and thrilling.” So wrote Joseph Burnett two years ago in Dusted’s review of the last Swans studio album, To Be Kind. Back then Swans were ascendant, born up by a pair of two-hour-long albums and even longer shows that channeled the extremity of the combo’s original brutalism into epic expressions of sustain and release.
For all their masterfully foreboding, skull-rattling ire – not least on their last two studio albums in their current guise, the equally emphatic The Seer and To Be Kind – it’s safe to say Michael Gira’s Swans aren’t exactly widely famed for their darling expressions of affection and amour. Peer a little further behind the veil, however, and you’ll discover love – not hate nor rage nor misery – informing latter-day Swans’ orchestrated fury and seismic might. Equating the band’s diversely ecstatic output and live shows to a shared grasping for the elusive root of some higher reality binding not only his band but their art, their audience and all truths far beyond, Gira recently said: “I chose the five people with whom to work that I believed would most ably provide a sense of surprise, and even uncertainty, while simultaneously embodying the strength and confidence to ride the river of intention that flows from the heart of the sound wherever it would lead us - and what’s the intention? LOVE!” At just under two hours in length The Glowing Man is the third and final vessel in which 62-year-old Gira and his current band navigate the laws of ecstasy, doom and love up the meandering – often tempestuous – river in question.
The history of Swans comes in eras, chunks of time that are readily demarcated by fans and critics, noted for the differences in sound and the cast of characters surrounding Michael Gira. The lines eclipsing these eras, however, weren’t always clearly defined by the musician himself, instead imposed on a life and catalog full of grandiose ideas, turmoil, and persuasive emotions. Considering the more than 30 years of his career, that’s only natural.