Swans | ArticleComplexity of SWANS' music compelling Listening to the Swans' latest release, "The Great Annihilator," is like reading a giant leatherbound tome written in some language you can't quite understand.
It is mysterious, powerful and intriguing. The work absorbs your attention as you feel a growing demand to know more. Talking to lead Swan Michael Gira offers no relief, however.
"I really couldn't say that there's a theme. I'm just tying to make music. I'm a little more humble than that, I think. I'm not a college professor," he said from San Francisco before the start of the band's tour, which comes to the Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax Ave., (322-2308) at 8 tonight.
In spite of Gira's demure hesitance, it is almost impossible to listen to the Swans' music without falling into their deeply complex world of ideas and emotions. And even though the band bases its music on traditional rock instruments—guitars, keyboards, percussion—there is nothing quite like the Swans in the world of rock 'n' roll.
"Loosely, a lot of things can fit into that that I don't really consider to be regular rock 'n' roll. I think you can put Brian Eno in the rock 'n' roll category, as well as Nico. There's a lot of things you can put loosely into rock music that aren't dumb rock music. So it doesn't bother me."
What does vex Gira is the band's lingering reputation, gained years ago as the biggest, meanest band in New York City.
"(Some people think) that it's loud and brutal and all that stuff. We left that behind years ago. Or that it's dark. I guess some of the things in it are serious. I don't think it's dark."
If some people find the Swans dark, it is only an effect of its depth and the inevitable murkiness at its bottom. If people find the music uncomfortable, it is only because it is unconcerned with the simple veneer of conventional life. Gira and longtime collaborator Jarboe have leapt headlong into the full meaning of human experience, creating music that embraces both beauty and the beast.
"It's not teenage music, I suppose," Gira said.
In each song, simple elements layer into complex structures. Insistent guitar lines work across demanding drum beats, while Jarboe's sensual vocals reach for sweetness before cracking against a hard edge of the music.
Like a broken window, some look and feel only the repulsion of a thing destroyed. Gira looks and sees the beauty of the splintered shards, understanding the power implicit in a violent act. To that end, the Swans are not band that lives in compromise. Both the light and the dark battle in their music, resulting in a sound that is both beautiful and terrible.
Outside the recording studio, the band continues to deliver its powerful sonic theater.
Gira promised that the first Swans' tour in three years would be worth the wait.
"Half the set is really ambient and calm and quiet and the other quarter is extremely Wagnerian, real loud, and the other stuff is sort of groove-oriented. It's real varied."
Once the current tour ends, Gira looks forward to starting work on a new Swans record.
"It's real slow with long, languorous textures and then, occasionally, a so-called song will come in. Although the songs, quote, unquote, are like 15 minutes long.
"Since we're not a commercial band anyway, since we hardly sell any records, I said I might as well do whatever the hell I want."