Swans | Reviews

After listening to Children of God, it was pretty obvious what direction the Swans were going in

The Burning World
Uni Records

Children of GodThat album showed a gentle, melodic (yet still very dark and depressing) side to the band that had only been hinted at very rarely on previous records. This record only continues further in that direction.

See, this is considered by many to be the weak link in Swans' catalog, especially by Gira himself. This is the only album Swans had ever recorded for a major label and Gira came away from the experience a very, very bitter man. The production duties were in the hands of a certain Bill Laswell, who many believe were responsible for this record's over-produced, major label feel. But everyone seems to be forgetting one thing here: the songs. These songs are absolutely wonderful. Extremely melodic, dark, emotional, beautiful and very, very, catchy. Gira's singing has improved significantly, and his voice has taken on a sultry Nick Cave quality to it. It's very, very hard to believe that this is the same man who provided the yells and screams on such brutal, punishing albums as Cop and Filth. And JarboeÅ well, she simply has one of the most beautiful and powerful voices I have ever heard. Her vocals add so much to songs like "I Remember Who You Are" and the cover of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" that it's incredible.

They would further develop this sound with subsequent releases and create music that was even more powerful, but I believe this record was a necessary step for them to take to get to that point. This record is simply criminally underrated, and the fact that it was so under-represented on the Various Failures retrospective is very sad indeed.

Review by Mark Pennington

Review date: 08/2001

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1. The River That Runs With Love Won't Run Dry
2. Let It Come Down
3. Can't Find My Way Home
4. Mona Lisa, Mother Earth
5. (She's A) Universal Emptiness
6. Saved
7. I Remember Who You Are
8. Jane Mary, Cry One Tear
9. See No More
10. God Damn The Sun
White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity
Young God / Rough Trade

White Light From the Mouth of Infinity was Swans first release after their one attempt at a major label effort. Despite some of the perceived flaws of The Burning World, White Light proves beyond a shadow of doubt that this band was charged and primed to impress the living hell out of their audience. And White Light certainly does the trick.

In many regards, this album finds Swans at their most accessible and least sonically crushing. The standard mood of despair and depression is still prevelant throughout the album, but White Light finds the band writing more obvious love songs than ever before. At times, though, this band sounds almost anthemic and reaching for the stars. "Power and Sacrifice" is utterly impressive in that regard. The guitar playing on this album is absolutely striking, whether it is thicker or more acoustically based. Michael Gira's singing is thoroughly enjoyable, using his baritone throb to express his morose feelings in powerful ways. At times brooding and other times a bit more upbeat (insofar as Gira is capable of upbeat), his delivery is one of the most impressive things about this release.

White Light From the Mouth of Infinity is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying releases from this era of Swans. This is an album you could play for squeamish significant others who might not appreciate the abrasive early years of the band. Although White Light was never properly reissued, many of these tracks reappear on Various Failures, which chronicled the band from 1988 to 1992. With White Light being out of print, the album has become fairly difficult to find and commands a rather hefty price on Ebay. Nevertheless, whether you seek out the original or settle for Various Failures, this release features Swans at their best.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2003

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1. Better Than You
2. Power And Sacrifice
3. You Know Nothing
4. Song For Dead Time
5. Will We Survive
6. Love Will Save You
7. Failure
8. Song For The Sun
9. Miracle Of Love
10. When She Breathes
11. Why Are We Alive?
12. The Most Unfortunate Lie
The Great Annihilator
Invisible Records

I had first heard the Swans probably a decade ago when I found an early LP of theirs in a used shop. I had known of the connection between Swans and Prong via drummer Ted Parsons so I decided to check out that LP. It might have been Filth, but I'm uncertain. No matter what LP it was, it scared the living bejeezus out of me and I hid the album where it could do me no harm. That was my impression of Swans.

So one day I randomly heard "Celebrity Lifestyle" and was immediately drawn by the haunting, doom-ridden vocals of Michael Gira (although admittedly I thought to myself, "Gee, that sounds like Tiamat's Johan Edlund without an
accent) and the dreamy, yet intense nature of the music. That led to me diving into The Great Annihilator and being utterly captivated by the music within.

>From my understanding, The Great Annihilator was recorded after a three
hiatus. Still featuring Michael Gira and Jarboe as the main voices, Swans also found help from that aforementioned Ted Parsons character as well as Bill Reiflin of Ministry fame. Unlike their earliest work, which could send a vile, nasty-smelling troll into night terrors, Swans circa 1994 are a gorgeous landscape of haunting music. The music is sparse, yet full and lush. The rhythmic talents of Rieflin and Parson are a solid backbone that alternate between pulsating and simply creating an counterpoint to the echoing and ringing guitars. There is much space between all the instruments, yet the album doesn't sound hollow or flat. Dissonance plays a part in the guitar work, but never approaching needless abrasiveness. All the while, Gira's voice resonates throughout the album, with Jarboe getting a few tracks of her own in. Both vocalists have the ability to elevate the music hallowed voices that carry a burden of a lifetime of pain. Many gothic music singers truly wish they could convey what Gira and Jarboe do so naturally. For example, I bet Tiamat's Edlund spends nights listening to The Great Annihilator and thinking, "God dang it, why can't I sound this morose?"

The Great Annihilator is the type of album that can make someone who has never really given Swans a chance into a believer. The CD is entrancing and absolutely stellar. You know you've found an amazing record when you feel an unstoppable urge to rush out to the CD store to buy the rest of the band's back catalogue, perhaps leaving that one LP for the very last purchase.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 02/2003

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1. In
2. I Am The Sun
3. She Lives!
4. Celebrity Lifestyle
5. Mother Father
6. Blood Promise
7. Mind/Body/Light/Sound
8. My Buried Child
9. Warm
10. Alcohol The Seed
11. Killing For Company
12. Mother's Milk
13. Where Does A Body End?
14. Telepathy
15. The Great Annihilator
16. Out
Children Of God/World Of Skin
Young God Records

Around the time Jarboe joined Swans, the monolithic, plundering, raw era of the band began to metamorphosis into a much more subtle and dynamic outfit that, while often expressing the same feelings of despair and despondency, found new ways to impart their emotions through sound. 1987's Children of God is the band's first true catapult into their newer sound. Dispensing with much of the thundering and rhythmic slabs of sound on earlier releases, Children of God trades in the raging anger for pensive aspirations.

Around the same time period, Swans bandleader Michael Gira teamed up with Jarboe on a project called Skin, which allowed them to explore their softer, artsier side. Skin released two albums over the course of 1987-88 and eventually released both together as World of Skin. Once Young God Records started reissuing the early albums in the late 90s, Children of God was paired with World of Skin in an elaborate digipack foldout. (There is also a regular jewel case double CD version available as well.) This sprawling thirty song collection adds a bonus track to Children of God and demonstrates that both Swans and Skin were musically on the same page, despite being originally released as separate projects.

On the whole, listening to both CDs back to back is an emotionally draining experience. While adhering to their dedication to quality, Swans take listeners through a journey of abject despair. This is the collection that is sure to make Barney the dinosaur want to weep and cry, "I hate you, you hate me". Swans were in the process of discovering sparse arrangements could often add up to so much more by the time of Children of God. On more than one occasion, listeners get treated to Gira's brooding deep voice barely find the wherewithall to utter the lyrics, all based over a simple arrangement of guitar and some percussion. World of Skin tends to be a bit more lush than Children of God and seemingly allows Jarboe to shine a bit more. Nevertheless, it's not a cheerful, sunny album either, with tracks like "Cry Me a River" proving this band had some serious issues with glee.

Although Swans lightened up a bit with subsequent releases (all things relative, naturally), Children of God/World of Skin stands as one of their most oppressively dark and powerful releases. Despite being originally released in three separate pieces, this reissued masterpiece is seamless and entirely impressive. Swans have many climatic points in their career and this simply stands as yet another one.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 10/2003

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CD one:
1. New Mind
2. In My Garden
3. Our Love Lies
4. Sex, God, Sex
5. Blood And Honey
6. Like A Drug
7. You're Not Real, Girl
8. Beautiful Child
9. Blackmail
10. Trust Me
11. Real Love
12. Blind Love
13. Children Of God
14. I'll Swallow You
CD two:
15. 1,000 Years
16. Everything At Once
17. Cry Me A River
18. Breathing Water
19. Blood On Your Hands
20. Nothing Without You
21. We'll Fall Apart
22. I Want To Be Your Dog
23. My Own Hands
24. Turn To Stone
25. Cold Bed
26. 24 Hours
27. Red Rose
28. One Small Sacrifice
29. Still A Child
30. The Center Of Your Heart
Various Failures (1988-92)
Young God Records

In the latter half of the 90s, Swans' material saw a rebirth in the form of an extensive series of reissues via Young God Records, band leader Michael Gira's own label. Packing an incredible amount of material into two-disc sets, these reissued missives are a treasure trove of material that revitalize one of America's most impressive bands. Of these reissues, none may be more impressive than Various Failures 1988-1992. During this period of time, Swans released a handful of albums that have since fallen out of print and become rather expensive collector's items. But rather than reissue these albums for whatever reason, Gira chose to personally sum up the time period on these two discs. Considering the two albums have a total running time over one hundred and fifty minutes, Various Failures is an extensive time capsule that almost fully captures this era of Swans.

By 1988, Swans had begun their transformation from a dense, massive wall of sound that crushed feeble listeners into a squishy paste into a considerably more delicate and somber sound. Basing the songs on introspective lyrics, echoing acoustics and production and an entirely pensive mindframe, the songs on Various Failures are an extensive journey that will take nearly any listener through the entire gamut of emotions. Since these thirty four songs are so sprawling and full, digesting this two CD set requires quite a few dedicated listens. Once one has worked his or her way past the daunting nature of the music, Various Failures becomes the type of album that will never leave your stereo for days. Between Gira's haunting baritone voice and Jarboe's rather unusual range of voices and approaches, the CDs cover emotional ground like the IRS inspecting your tax return for a reason to audit. Unlike early material, there is little bombast, except in the emotional impact. Gira's tone often sets a very despondent mood, yet at the same time the backing music can be incredibly uplifting and intense. So many songs become highlights that both CDs are practically one major highlight. Gira must be commended for scouring his music from that era to create a two CD package that flows as one complete release, rather than a hodge-podge compilation. If nothing else, fans of goth styled music should buy this release simply to hear Jarboe's wonderfully depressing rendition of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Joy Division nearly sounds like They Might Be Giants with their original version.

Despite the fact that some Swans fans felt the selection of songs could have been different, Various Failures is an incredible retrospect of a very creative and rich period in Swans history. It is the type of CD that can turn a casual fan into a deep believer and force listeners into an Ebay addiction to find the original out of print albums where this music was derived. Although it may take quite a bit of time to fully get one's head around due to the length and amount of music, this CD set is by far one of the most impressive releases for Swans.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 06/2003

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CD one:
1. Miracle Of Love
2. Black Eyed Dog
3. The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By The Sea
4. (-)
5. I Remember Who You Are
6. Her
7. No Cruel Angel
8. When She Breathes
9. Why Are We Alive?
10. The Child's Right
11. (-)
12. The Other Side Of The World
13. Song For Dead Time -mg Vers.
14. Love Will Save You
15. Blind
16. Unfortunate Lie - Inst. Vers.
17. Was He Ever Alive?
CD two:
18. Failure
19. Identity
20. Can't Find My Way Home
21. Trust Me
22. Better Than You
23. Love Will Tear Us Apart - J. Version
24. Will We Survive?
25. Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes
26. God Damn The Sun
27. Eyes Of Nature
28. You Know Everything
29. Song For Dead Time - J. Version
30. Picture Of Maryanne
31. Amnesia
32. Dream Dream
33. Please Remember Me
34. New Mind (acoustic)
Forever Burned
Young God Records

Much to the surprise of many Swans fans, Michael Gira has chosen to release the impossibly out of print The Burning World as the extremely limited edition Forever Burned. In the long run, this may just be creating yet another much sought after album, but for those of us who paid attention to the Young Gods website earlier this summer, Forever Burned is a great prize. Not only does it compile the entire The Burning World album, but it also includes several songs not included on the Various Failures complilation as well as the Gira version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart". And if that's not enough, each copy is signed by Gira himself. He personally thanked me, in fact, for ordering this Forever Burned. Whether or not this is your favorite Swans release, you can't beat the incentive to own this limited edition release.

Some Swans fans have found it ironic that Gira chose to reissue this particular release, since The Burning World is one album that he has poo-pooed in interviews over the years. Much criticism seems to be doled out on the production job of Bill Laswell. However, to a large degree, that criticism is slightly askew as the sound on the album is quite excellent. However, it must be noted that Laswell inadvertantly gave Swans a Golden Palominos sound overall and similarities can be heard all over the place as a result. At times you nearly expect Laswell to burst in with his famous dub basslines. Despite that, Forever Burned features the band entering their more contemplative and in my opinion, impressive phase. The moody songs are depressings, haunting and uplifting, sometimes all at once. Having traded in most of the bombastic nature of their earlier years, Swans reinvented themselves very nicely starting with The Burning World. The extra tracks from Love of Life and White Light From the Mouth of Infinity only catapult this CD into the realm of "phenomenal". Interestingly, Gira's version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is a very upbeat, new wave approach that is probably a bit more true to the original than Jarboe's version that appeared on Various Failures. Needless to say, her stark, haunting rendition is by far my favorite of the two.

All in all, there is little else to be said about Forever Burned except that it's something any proud Swans fans should be falling over him or herself to own. The chances of finding a copy of The Burning World is pretty slim. Besides, with all the extra tracks and Gira's personal touch, why settle for the original?

Review by John Chedsey