Swans | Swans Are Dead | Review


Death Is Not The End

Live double albums used to be the sound of artistically exhausted rock bands fulfilling their contractual obligations in the easiest, yet most decadent manner possible. Now that records of remixes seem to constitute the modern equivalent of this void filler, the artists who actually release live material are usually either dead or have something to say. In the case of the Swans, both are equally true.

One of the greatest things to come out of the amazing New York of the early eighties, up to last year the Swans produced unique music. The band passed through many castings, of which the only constant were the voice and compositions of Michael Gira. As each of their studio albums, which are in the process of being re-released on Young God Records, constitutes a distinct musical and philosophical entity, each of the current digipaks is an equally worthy introduction to their music. What distinguishes Swans Are Dead is that it contains performances of the best Swans material of the last half decade in versions that significantly differ from their original counterparts.

Except for some modestly edited wild audience response at the end of each song, the recording sounds cleaner than others' studio albums. Although both discs are breathtaking, I prefer the black one because I think the material represented on it, from Die Tür Ist Zu (The Door Is Closed) and Soundtracks For The Blind, is superior to that represented on the white one, from The Great Annihilator: on the former later releases, the Swans concentrated more on sonic texture than on the latter earlier title, which focussed more on traditional rockisms like rhythm. Also, the addition of Vudi from American Music Club on guitar for the last tour made a sublime difference to the ensemble sound. Although they have not incited as many imitators as Madonna or Nirvana, the Swans are far closer to art and life. The Swans may be dead, but works like this double live album reaffirm the permanence of art in the face of human decay. Meanwhile, the people behind the Swans, principally M. Gira and Jarboe, continue to release solo albums as long as people can.