collected swans press as of 2/1/2011

mr bozo

a thick, wet sound heard oozing across the tundra

My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to The Sky
by Swans
LABEL: Young God Records

There’s no ‘summing up’ with Swans. The creative collective that has made up
the group since 1982, steered by Michael Gira, has simply traversed too much
territory, beget too many children (bands and genres alike), and defied
every convention and easy buck offered through the official channels of
music. Gira’s retirement of the band in 1997 during, arguably, their finest
form set their integrity in stone while their leader pushed into other
musical boundaries with Drainland and The Angels of Light. This September
will see the group returning with their first offering in thirteen years,
and while a writer may be unable to sum up the elusive essence of Swans, the
band has done it for us: push the foundation until it collapses into a new,
oceanic frontier. That’s Swans.

“The album fuses all the greatest elements of Swans, from their early atonal
aggression, mid-point dirgy darkness, and late pounding folk-rock into one
relentless package.”

Reunions typically sound self-conscious, and My Father Will Guide Me Up A
Rope to The Sky avoids this cliche as if it wasn’t even a blip on the map.
The album fuses all the greatest elements of Swans, from their early atonal
aggression, mid-point dirgy darkness, and late pounding folk-rock into one
relentless package. All the while, there is an undercurrent of fresh energy,
the overwhelming passion that always molded the group. With plenty of older
avant-rock veterans trying to find their youth again, it’s splendid to see
such a seminal band still demonstrating unquestionable relevance.

As always, Swans sound like little else out there. Bob Dylan goes electric
with Cormac McCarthy and Tom Waits calling the shots. The arrangements are
still predicated upon an almost Chester Burnett-ish repetitive power, a
little disjointed, and produced without gloss or finesse; raw viscera. Gira
has pushed all of these elements into a slightly groovier direction on the
new record, feeling very close to blues and early rock. Gira has wisely
constructed the new music to accommodate his voice, an ever changing
instrument with age, and his consistently subtle baritone fits perfectly
into the ensemble.

“In so doing, the band has created probably their best record for new
listeners to start with.”

Lamentably, Jarboe, Gira’s longtime collaborator in Swans, is not rejoining
for the new output, though it oddly only adds to the integrity of both to
avoid the obvious.

My Father Will Guide Me… may prove to be Swans’ most focused, tightest
record to date, touching on familiar themes from their catalog while hurling
them all headlong into the future (and adding a few new ones). In so doing,
the band has created probably their best record for new listeners to start
with. Gira’s work with Angels of Light has generously expanded his skill as
a songwriter and producer, and the dynamic of the new music will likely
impress the ever-skeptic old guard.

Genreless, ageless, relentless, endless. This will be one of the year’s
sweeping events in music.

NEIL’S FAVORITE TRACKS: “Jim” • “My Birth” • “Inside Madeline”

Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Posted by Paul Neeson, Wed 01 Sep 2010

Having previously shelved his seminal post-punk band back in 1997, Young God
Records founder Michael Gira has continued to write under his Angels of
Light moniker whilst floating the possibility that he may one day resurrect
Swans. Come 2010 and Gira has made good – returning (sans Jarboe) with the
epically titled My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. For those who
invested in 2010 solo release I am Not Insane, much of the material here
will be familiar – albeit in a significantly reworked format – with You
Fucking People Make Me Sick being the single previously unreleased track on
show. In the context of Swans latter output, My Father… is typically
challenging, with the lead-heavy opener No Words/No Thoughts treading over
nine minutes of distorted abstraction; mixing imperial, instrumental ascents
with Gira’s shadowed vocals. It’s a polarizing gambit, and a sure sign that
Swans have returned with an uncompromising (and nihilistic) intent. [Paul


Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (CD, Young God,
If there's one band from the past decade that we've always been meaning to
purposely is The Swans. For whatever reason, this highly
influential band passed underneath our radar in their heyday...and even now
scoring their CDs for nothing can be quite a challenge. Probably
because--unlike most modern artists--there is still a real demand for the
music. Even though we don't have a thorough knowledge of the Swans...we are
very familiar with Michael Gira's projects over the past few years (his
Angels of Light band and his incredible Young God Records label). After five
Angels of Lights albums Gira decided to resurrect The Swans...making it a
point to inform listeners that "This is not a reunion. It's not some
dumb-ass nostalgia act. It is not repeating the past." (Gira is obviously a
man of integrity.) My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky presents
wonderfully inventive and imaginative compositions. The album begins with
the intense and lengthy "No Words/No Thoughts"...and then proceeds to dabble
in all kinds of styles and sounds as Gira and company challenge their
listeners to follow along with them in 2010. Joining Michael on this album
are Norman Westberg, Christoph Hahn, Phil Puleo, Chris Pravdica, and Thor
Harris (along with some additional guest artists). Warning: This is not
"easy music." This is exhilarating and sometimes difficult progressive music
that cannot and should not be ignored. TOP PICK. After hearing this we'll be
making it a point to collect the band's entire back catalog...


By: Jamie Russell
You know you're dealing with a very different proposition when a band is
lauded for their ability to nauseate. In fact, vomiting is generally
stereotyped as more of a 'thumbs-down' event in music. But Swans are no
ordinary rock band. Their early shows in the 80s, since described as beacons
for the No Wave movement, were actually celebrated for being so loud, so
aggressive and visceral, that audience members were often made ill in
attendance, and gigs closed down without even a sniff of an encore. Or so
goes the legend. It is, therefore, with trepidation that I test drive My
Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (their first album in 13 years).
First I arm myself with a basin.
There is, no doubt, something very physical going on here. ‘No Words/No
Thoughts’ is an onward march of heaving, industrial rhythms, lit by
shrieking flares of guitar, like reptilian calls or the sirens of a motor
city; at once synthetic and organic. This incarnation of Swans is richly
synaesthetic, vivid sound that can be seen and felt – and above it sits the
narrator, candidly teasing the soundscape into a frenzy. Michael Gira’s
voice is religious and rootsy in tone - a travelling storyteller to Nick
Cave’s ilk of burlesque preacher. And with the contrasting arrival of
‘Reeling The Liars In’ we are now under his watch, leaving the
carnival-metropolis a moment, sitting instead among a chain-gang of sinners
and evangelists. Voices that continue to haunt the rest of the record.
My Father Will Guide Me is a great ventriloquist’s act. The crackling keys
that open ‘My Birth’, for instance, are gunfire or an alarm or perhaps just
a piano. These are curiosities contrived to flirt with the darkest parts of
imagination. They draw on paradigms in the cultural memory, often cinematic,
from the World War II bombers that fly over ‘You Fucking People Make Me
Sick’, to the far eastern wail of guitars in ‘Eden Prison’. There’s a
masterful swagger to the record, a very knowing grasp of subjunctive imagery
and a torrent of mimesis running right through.
Swans had moved to the less noisy, vomity end of post punk long before their
13 year hiatus, but it’s still an interesting counterpoint to draw on.
Latter day Swans are less epileptic, steadier in pace and more ephemeral.
It’s as if their playground has shifted from the body to the mind –
acquiring the character of storyteller / narrator along the way as a
culturally ‘understood’ character, a constancy in a challengingly chameleon
landscape. Stand back far enough, and it’s easy to see My Father Will Guide
Me as a sort of shared reminiscence - capably hitched up to sonic
proportions and projected directly onto your mind’s eye.



After gaining a reputation as a prime purveyor of some of the most brutal
and hypnotic eardrum shredding noise ever created by human beings- carrying
the musical torch of playing so loudly live that people would vomit, an
accolade which has subsequently been passed to My Bloody Valentine- the New
York band Swans have been reformed by singer and founding member Michael
Gira after almost 13 years of inactivity. With the new Swans lineup- Gira
still occupying the position of main man, alongside original Swans guitarist
Norman Westberg and a number who played in previous incarnations of Swans'
ever revolving group of musicians- hitting the UK in October for their first
tour in literally eons in support of their latest album My Father Will Guide
Me Up A Rope To The Sky, at long last we are able to warrant running an
'Artist of the Week' piece on these cult post-punk legends.
The band began in 1982 amidst the then dwindling, but immensely influential
New York “No Wave” movement. Although the heyday of No Wave was short lived,
many of the groups who were major players in the scene- such as Mars and
DNA- which became renowned for the creation of music that was extremely
abrasive, commonly deemed obnoxious, but always of an intensity bordering on
a religious experience live, left an indelible mark on Gira and his men.
Swans took the elements of dissonance and the wall of sound sonic attack
employed live by the aforementioned groups (whose music was brought to a
wider audience when Brian Eno documented a selection of their songs on the
now very rare LP, 'No New York'), slowed the pace down to the lethargic plod
of a dying brontosaurus, and cranked the volume 'to 11'. Upon the release of
their debut, Filth, in 1983, it became evident that Swans had transformed
the No Wave sound into a much darker, more metal influenced beast. Early
recordings were reviewed by contemporaries critics as “aggressive beyond
A multitude of albums with varying line-ups (which from 1986 included the
gothic princess turned singer/keyboardist Jarboe as a core member alongside
Gira) continued their pulsating, unfathomably dark sound. However, Gira soon
admitted that he had become disillusioned with the music that people
expected Swans to produce, and with 1987's Children Of God the band embarked
on a stylistic shift that gave birth to more melodic material, toning down
the ear-splitting noise and introducing more acoustic instrumentation.
Evidently dissatisfied after producing half a dozen more albums (including
the more accessible Soundtracks For The Blind in 1996), Gira decided to
disband the group in 1997. He formed another project, Angels of Light, and
began managing his own record label, Young God Records, to which he signed
experimental folksters Akron/Family. The new album, which is released at the
end of September, picks up from the more melodic material that characterised
Swans' later output, yet it still finds time to exude as much gravity and
skull-crushing brutality as ever. Swans are back. They have not lost one
ounce of their awesomeness, and they will almost certainly kill you.


Swans – ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up A rope To The Sky’ Album Review

In the year 2000, I think (no this isn’t a Pulp song), I came across a
record store that was closing down in central Leicester. In amongst the
dusty, unwanted piles of sale CDs I found a dirty, damaged digi-pack which
caught my attention despite the minimalist design. It transpired to be the
last stand of Michael Gira and Swans (the monumental ‘soundtracks for the
blind’ double set) and over the following years I tracked down the majority
of a back catalogue that was so varied and changeable that various parts of
it could belong to different bands. The beauty of Swans, for me, lay in the
fact that your favourite album could change depending on your mood with the
curiously horrible ‘cop’ providing the soundtrack to the blackest rage,
while the ethereal, tormented ‘soundtracks for the blind’ was better suited
to a more gentle, hypnotic melancholy bought on by too much reflection upon
past mistakes.

Gira’s subsequent effort, Angels of light, was a markedly different affair.
Dark, and sometimes unremittingly bleak (‘everything’s good here’ veers
between the whimsical and the acoustically brutal) Angels were more
traditionally song-orientated while Swans could take one riff and expand it
on into infinity, building and augmenting until it became its own twisted,
cyclic entity pulsing in the darkness. This is the sound that Gira has
captured on ‘My father will guide me up a rope to the sky’, the new release
from a band long laid to rest, resurrected and rebuilt to introduce a whole
new generation of starry-eyed innocents to the inner-workings of Michael
Gira’s tormented vision.

The clues were all there on ‘I am not insane’. A limited edition release,
ostensibly designed to fund the creation of the new record, it featured
none-more-basic acoustic recordings of ideas for the album which managed to
be both darkly compelling and starkly beautiful at the same time, while the
accompanying DVD and book of drawings fleshed out the ideas offering a
tantalising snapshot of what the reco0rd might be. Still, no-one dared hope
that it could be quite as good as this.

Clearly influenced by Gira’s time in Angels, the new Swans sits somewhere
between ‘everything is good here’ and ‘Soundtracks for the blind’ (a sound
largely evident on the ‘Swans are dead’ live CD) with the opening track ‘no
words, no thoughts’ slithering through the speakers like a semi-comatose
Viper, twitching and confused, but still deadly when roused. As guitars
scratch across the brutally industrial surface of the track, drills and saws
pulse and tear holes in your consciousness and it’s clear that this is not
going to be a simple revisiting of past glories but rather a whole new
chapter in the evolution of a band whose every album highlighted a
development that most artists could never hope to match. Gira’s voice is
still the highlight. Unerringly deep, his tormented baritone carries more
emotional weight than any amount of screaming while the fascinating
percussion drives the song forward impulsively with martial snare and
pounding bass dragging you into the darkness. The heavy use of repetition
allows each riff room to breathe and develop, often to ear-shattering
volumes before the next section of the song begins the process anew so that
the tracks ebb and flow without hinting at anything so obvious as a chorus
and all of this, of course, is just the first song.

‘Reeling the liars in’ is surprisingly close to its acoustic precursor, with
the lyrics carrying a level of spite that stands entirely contrary to the
folksy delivery of the track. ‘Jim’, however, (the opening track from ‘I am
not insane’) lives up to its initial promise of developing into a thing of
horrific beauty, as it rises out of a swamp of gently beautiful percussion
and throbbing bass. It shows you just how far the compositions could develop
and there are times when you wonder whether Gira is truly in control of its
art or if it is in control of him as the overwhelming guitars tear chunks
from your soul towards the songs ecstatic, sweaty climax. ‘My birth’ needs
no gentle introduction, rather it hurtles at you as you stand, caught in its
headlights shaking with fear and anticipation, and the band come on like the
Velvet underground filtered through a tinny factory PA, curiously in time
with the machinery its seeking to drown out. Gira’s drawl is a multi-faceted
thing of wonder while the band seem to be in thrall to the music they’re
making, just creating for the sheer joy of being able to do so.

For those of you who heard ‘I am not insane’ the one bolt from the blue is
‘you f****ng people make me sick’, a jarring, ugly, featuring vocals from
Devendra Banhart whose gently menacing vocal tops an echoing guitar noise
that is directly comparable to the astounding ‘helpless child’ from the
‘soundtracks…’ album before a thunderous outro induces panic to set in.
‘Inside Madeline’ is a lengthy jam, seemingly built up around one insistent
riff while all manner of instrumentation crawls around it. Like the
strangely comforting yet disturbing title, the track builds from nowhere
until it reaches a droning conclusion that is enough to terrify all but the
hardiest of sonic adventurers. Largely instrumental, and thus mercifully
brief, it captures the sheer sonic power of Swans even when they’re not
attempting to imitate the sound of a thousand gears grinding together in the
heart of a broken and rusty machine, before the unlikely, Parisian feel of
the ending draws the track to a close that is thoroughly confusing and
entirely wonderful.

‘Eden prison’ is a throw back to the crushing rhythms of early Swans crossed
with the vocal gymnastics of ‘all souls rising’ and thus mercilessly crushes
everything underfoot as it rolls roughshod over you, especially towards its
massive conclusion. That just leaves ‘little mouth’ to close this
astonishing collection, which it does in truly terrifying fashion, opening
with atmospheric noise before segueing into Gira at his most melodic.

How does one judge Swans? A band by whom most other artists are measured,
Swans are a force of nature, elemental and untamed and entirely a law unto
themselves. Gira’s decision to reform only those members of the band he felt
could drive the music forward (hence no Jarboe) says a lot about the
motivation behind this – no-one but Swans could have made this album – and
the result is a work of solemn, dark beauty that will live long in the
hearts of fans and newcomers alike thanks to a mesmerising performance from
everyone involved. For those who lived in hope of a Swans reunion, this is
everything that they could have hoped for; for those who have yet to
experience the sheer power of their music, this is a perfect introduction –
quite simply this is an astonishing, heavy, punishing, raw, emotionally
honest, towering giant of an album that is unlikely to be equalled and there
is no doubt that the new songs will excel in the live arena utterly unbowed
by the excellent material already residing within the band’s back catalogue.
This is everything a Swans fan could have hoped for: a sublime achievement.