Swans | Swans Related Projects | Review

The Wire | Biba Kopf

return to the scenes of Swans crimes

Swans Related Project: M Gira Drainland
Swans Related Project: Jarboe Sacrificial Cake

Down the years and despite the growth, the stylistic permutations and the occasional aberrations into something resembling warmth, Swans have been such a single-minded project you have to wonder why its perpetrator Michael Gira would need to make a solo album. Granted, you can see how Jarboe needs space elsewhere to express ideas that fall outside Gira's scheme of things. The great success of these Swans Related Projects is how they return to the scenes of Swans crimes, so to speak, and light them up differently, and then again entirely different from each other.

Aptly titled, Gira's Drainland is drained of blood, tears and excess emotion. Its songs are autopsies, body parts laid out on the mortician's slab and spoken-sung in bleak monotone. Well, Gira has always been the most Beckett-like of songwriters. Interlocking word and image in a manner that superficially suggests simple body mechanics—skull connected to your neckbone, etc. Yet the accumulative impact of bare-boned lines dovetailed with equally pared rhythm and melody and muscle-toned with sparse noise samples is emotionally devastating. This is a document of base drives. It could be subtitled "Death Is My Trade." It's an ugly business, but not without its grotesque, Ambrose Bierce-like humour. An opening taped dialogue featuring Jarboe and Michael is so naked it has you reaching for the light switch.

The first thing to be said about Jarboe's record is that now she's dropped the breathy torch effect, she's singing better than ever. When she wants to she can outshriek Hole and Babes In Toyland both. But she's strongest when letting up the pace to spin voluptuous, dark-forest electronic fairy tales full of seemingly innocent come-ons and, invariably, deadly pay-offs. If Gira's songs might be singing of the child murdered within him long ago, Jarboe sings out for every murdered child buried in a shallow grave. Across these two records the terror rarely lets up. Highly recommended, but cheap thrill seekers are advised to back off.