I went to concerted lengths to catch the final Swans show in Atlanta in 1997 – the tour supporting The Great Annihilator. In 2010 Swans have reformed using an early lineup variant and touring behind a new album called My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.
Swans started out of the gates in the early 80s and released some of the most punishing music ever committed to vinyl. By the late 80s, about the time of Jarboe entering the scene, a new emphasis on melodies, to great affect, surfaced in the apocalyptic squall on albums like Children of God. With my favorite Swans albums, The Burning World, Love of Live and White Light at the Mouth of Infinity, Swans abruptly turned down the volume and dropped the noise and created a gorgeously orchestrated tableau that perfectly featured Michael Gira’s debased exercises-in-misery lyrics. This risky sonic about-face proved that the song would lose none of its power backed by quieter surroundings. To me, these albums with their largely orchestral and acoustic arrangements, and epic building melodies, were stunning accomplishments, particularly coming from professional purveyors of crushing – albeit brilliant – sludge. These albums, sometimes interspersed with interludes of soft instrumentals and sampled Americana via answering machine messages, combined a total affect as individual albums, and as a group, Swans high point.
Alas, for some reason, Michael Gira and Co. seem to indicate that this era of Swans would best be forgotten. Michael Gira has meticulously remastered and reissued nearly all of Swans back catalog but with these three albums, they were reduced down with other work of the era, along with suspect song selection, to a single 2cd album doing a disservice to the these three individually great albums. Tellingly, the repackaged cd of these albums is titled Various Failures.
Needless to say, Swans 2010, as with the 1997 tour, ignored this era in its entirety. Again, Noisenicks win on this one. All told though, there was only a few songs aired that were not off of the new album anyway. The new album, along the lines of the direction starting with The Great Annihilator to some extent coalesce all eras of Swans into a form that has attracted plenty of critical acclaim and certainly has its adherents.
Here is a track from the new album as performed live at a recent NYC show.
SWANS 10/2010 Setlist NYC
No Words, No Thoughts
Sex, God, Sex
Download: Swans – My Birth (Live)
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