•••SIGNED BY M.GIRA•••
After years of pursuing Angels of Light and recording and producing a diverse roster of artists for his Young God label, Michael Gira has decided to reconvene his legendary group Swans. As he says: “THIS IS NOT A REUNION. It’s not some dumb-ass nostalgia act. It is not repeating the past. After 5 Angels Of Light albums, I needed a way to move FORWARD, in a new direction, and it just so happens that revivifying the idea of Swans is allowing me to do that. “
The core group constituting Swans for this phase is Michael Gira / guitar / voice / mendicant friar act (original swans); Norman Westberg – guitar (original swans); Christoph Hahn – guitar (mid period swans and most angels); Phil Puleo – drums, percussion, dulcimer etc (final swans tour and most angels); Chris Pravdica – bass and gadgets (flux information sciences / services/ gunga din); Thor Harris - drums, percussion, vibes, dulcimer, curios, keys (angels, now also with Shearwater)…
This highly anticipated album is as powerful and diverse as anything Gira’s done, in Swans or otherwise. It opens with the epic, soul-crushing (bone crushing?) No Words/No Thoughts, but quickly veers to more pastoral terrain, then on to ever-ascending mono-tonal grooves, a filmic-folk idyll featuring Devendra Banhart on lead vocal that abruptly shifts to cataclysm, then on to more airplane-taking-off ascensions, art songs, and more lethal sonic pummeling. In short, this is the new SWANS album, a significant advance from where Swans left off and as challenging and emotionally demanding as ever.
Increasing frustrated by the (self imposed) constraints he’d set for himself in Angels of Light, Gira decided that the direction he wanted his music to take would be more appropriate under the moniker of the group he started in 1982 and retired in 1997. Though the new album retains an attention to detail in orchestration, and an underlying sense of melody on many of the songs, there’s a deliberate shift towards sonic intensity, relentless, maniacal rhythms and alternately abrasive and soaring waves of electric guitar, qualities those familiar with the always-shifting sonic approach of Swans over the (now first) 15 years of its’ existence will recognize. This record immediately feels like Swans but is also obviously unique and moving into new territory.
Here’s what Gira says about the moment he decided to reconvene Swans:
“There was a point a few years ago during a particular show when I was on tour with Angels of Light, with Akron/Family serving as the backing band. It was during the song The Provider. Seth’s guitar was sustaining one open chord (very loudly), rising to a peak, then crashing down again in a rhythm that could have been the equivalent of a deep and soulful act of copulation. The whole band swayed with this arc. Really was like riding waves of sound. I thought right then, “You know, Michael, Swans wasn’t so bad after all...” - ha ha! It brought back – in a flood – memories, or maybe not memories, more a tangible re-emersion in the sensation of Swans music rushing through my body in waves, lifting me up towards what, I can only assume, will be my only experience of heaven. It’s difficult – and probably pointless – to try to describe this experience. It’s ecstatic, I suppose – a force of simultaneous self negation and rebirth. Really, I probably only experienced this a handful of times to such an extreme extent during the entire 15 year history of Swans. All the elements have to align perfectly, and you can’t force it, though you might constantly strive for it. I don’t mean to be too lofty here, but it’s a fact. I’m talking about my own experience of the music (though I’d hope people in the audiences along the way might have experienced a similar episode). When I ask myself if I believe in God, I start to say NO, but then I remember that sensation, and I’m not so sure. So I want more of that, before my body breaks down to such an extent that it won’t be possible any more. So I’m doing it. “
The original art for the album is by Beatrice Pediconi http://www.beatricepediconi.com
The recording of this record was made possible by the sale of a limited edition of 1000, handmade CD/DVD package exclusively at younggodrecords.com. The music CD consisted of Gira’s acoustic demos of several songs under consideration for the new Swans album and the DVD was 2 live shows of Gira solo. Gira hand printed the edition - named I Am Not Insane - (with wood block), hand colored each one individually, and assembled the 1000 copies himself. The expectation was that it would take 3 or 4 months to sell out through the limited venue of the YGR website. It sold out in 2 weeks.
Since the musicians live in different places on the planet, the idea of rehearsal for the recordings was both impractical and expensive. They had all heard the material in demo form, so were basically familiar with the material. In order to both allow time to work out the songs as a band with a distinct personality, and to ensure freshness in the performance, they recorded the basic tracks for one song per day over a period of 12 – 14 hours each day.
Once they’d reached a peak, having hashed the songs over (and over) and reconfigured them from their original demo form into something unique to the group, the engineer hit record. Basic overdubs were done at the end of the same day.
Additional subsequent overdubs were done later and guests included: Bill Rieflin (long-time Swans and Angels of Light contributor and currently drummer for REM and Robyn Hitchcock).
Bill played piano, synthesizer, organ, acoustic and electric guitar, drums/percussion and more; Grasshopper (Mercury Rev) – Mr. Grass played a swarm of mandolins; Devendra Banhart -
Devendra sang the lead vocal – accompanied by Gira’s 3 ½ year old daughter Saoirse – to the song You Fucking People Make Me Sick.
Swans will begin touring late September and will continue touring in 2 to 3 week stints for the next 18 months.
A FEW ADVANCE STORIES ABOUT THE RECORD HERE:
HERE’S AN EARLY REVIEW:
from ATTN Magazine UK
by Jack Chuter
It is with a severe level of excitement that I present my review of the new Swans LP – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.
Incredibly, it’s been 14 years since the release of the last full-length. Soundtracks for the Blind was a daunting and thorough two-disc collage – a seemingly conclusive statement, appearing to wring out the last of what Gira wished to express under the Swans moniker via an extensive array of means – soundscapes, live cuts, drones, electronic beats, post-rock, deceptively pretty synthesisers, spoken word passages, with Michael’s distinctive singing voice a haunting and recurrent theme.
In terms of sound, My Father… doesn’t exactly pick up from there. Nor would it slip comfortably under Gira’s Angels of Light project, which has been running since the initial de-activation of Swans. There are strong elements of both, but as Gira said himself, the Swans idea was revived as a means to move forward, and ultimately, the album does just that.
Those who picked up I Am Not Insane (a collection of Gira’s initial album ideas, presented as solo pieces for voice and acoustic guitar) will be soon to realise just how skeletal those versions were. Their transformation is astonishing – although most of the melodies and lyrics remain just about intact, these early sketches are almost unrecognisable in amongst the heaps of instrumentation and collaborative ideas that have been piled on top by the rest of the line up. A towering atmosphere has gathered to decorate the bare bones of what Gira brought to the table, and it’s unmistakably Swans – clattering and rickety and unstable – forever ominous and occasionally plainly terrifying.
“No Words/No Thoughts” was my easily my least favourite track from I Am Not Insane, but here it’s a brutally brilliant opener, exploding from the initial introduction of glistening chimes as a thundering one-chord catastrophe. It’s left as a pummelling loop for a full three minutes, featuring warped electronics, backwards cymbals and what sounds like trombones screaming in piercing slides, before breaking down and allowing Gira to finally makes his vocal entry. It’s at the point that his perfectly executed baritone drawl enters the piece that it becomes beyond doubt that Swans have continued to maintain the high standard left by Soundtracks for the Blind back in 1996. He is on blinding form.
Elsewhere there’s “Jim”, lurching forward on a heave-ho rhythm that rattles and thuds on piano and guitar battered in unison. Personally I hear a likeness to “All Souls’ Rising” by Angels of Light for the way in which it almost stops and starts in these hefty lumbering steps, with an organic intensity that arises out of the musician – the velocity and anger behind each hit and strum, not just the timbre of the instrument.
“You Fucking People Make Me Sick” is the only track that wasn’t present on I Am Not Insane and it’s probably the most unnerving piece of the lot. Contorted vocals from Devendra Banhart are echoed in a twisted child-like tone and scattered across minor-chord guitar jangle, before the piece cuts abruptly into a brilliant interplay between percussive stomp and a juddering flourish of piano dissonance. After countless listens, I’ve yet to fully “get” the nightmarish and bizarre first half, but find myself in absolute awe of the harrowing noise of the second. A lot of these pieces are left to spiral off on their own accord, often giving way to freakish atonal experimentation and leaving the sound of a band completely enveloped in their own grooves, playing off of each other with an unspoken musical understanding. It’s fascinating to hear, if not always immediately accessible.
After the thudding locomotive of “Eden Prison”, “Little Mouth” closes the album on a weary melancholy deeply rooted in Angels of Light, with a thick chorus of backing vocals guiding it forward. The final minute sees the instruments away to leave Michael singing into silence – a particularly beautiful highlight from I Am Not Insane that was thankfully retained for the final product. In fact, it’s these closing stages that highlight a particular worry I had prior to going into my first listen. Would the full band versions of these tracks do justice to the strength of the song-writing at work on I Am Not Insane? I needn’t have given it a moment thought. Swans Are Not Dead.