FREQ leaving meaning. review

Michael Gira has never shied away from the bareness of the bulb’s inspection – his narrative always gnaws at the fragmented prism of the self, right from the sweaty simplicity of their beginnings to the sophisticated diatribes of the later years, even including the physical force of Swans‘ recent rebirth.

I’ve loved that diaristic calling, the dirgy dramatics of music behind his words apple-coring you with an air-stealing incessance. Leaving Meaning, Swans’ fifteenth album, continues the journey with a flux of guest musicians, and it’s a bold, big-sounding panorama where birth/death/love and a lot of mystical betweens are caught in the vastness of the sky and the folding grave of the soil.

Things start very much in the vein of Angels Of Light, a light caress before slicing into the real meat of personal trauma that has propelled this band through all these years. The brooding bounty of “The Hanging Man” collapsing around you like an unused signature from the recent Swans sound, its carnivorous contours hyena(ing) a twisty torpidity. That incessant spine, itchy with explosive primitivism, Gira animalising his words, bulletting “I AM I am not / I AM I am not / I AM I am not!” That magnificent voice a purring perfection muscling the scenics, painting a jagged set of emotional enigmas for you to swim around in. Wow doesn’t begin to cover it.

The acoustic concentrate of “Amnesia”’s redux follows, a revisit which disgorges the machine guns of the original to reveal a shivering attentiveness to its words, melding supernaturally to the title track’s slippery grace. “Leaving Meaning” shuffles its cards to a morbid creep of ivory, this breeze-thrown melody over which a repeating phrase murmurs like the ghost of an old Swans song that’s on the tip of your tongue. Gira’s polished delivery blooms in the reverbed space, his questions hypnotically gorged: “I can touch it — but not hold it”, his voice drifting out from its moorings in doubles and triples on one of the many gorgeous highlights to feast upon here.

The scar of naked sincerity that is set off by “Sunfucker”’s sharp edges and Yemenese yells, driving a delicious insanity through its droning saturations. Its “believer, not leaver” repeats harvest a second wind and a chorusing Jennifer Gira vocal, concentrating the focus for a growing tensive. “I am the one with feathered plume, who holds your heart, whose light consumes / With arms stretched out, I gather sky”, Gira incising; ‘One thought, one mind: Sun Fucker eats the blind”, his words siphoning a paganistic pull. The seductive energies of “Cathedrals Of Heaven” dim the light, Gira’s humming introducing a ritualised fold of intimacy and an all-consuming love in hissy vents of instrumentation and fraying saturations.

“The Nub” that introduces The Necks‘ glinting jazz to the proceedings, as swelling symphonics to a flickering femininity of Baby Dee‘s lead and Fay ChristenIda Albertje Michels and Jennifer Gira’s backing vocals, treacles a growing tension as heralds of trumpet and sweeping snares swim the hemispheres, and a treated harpsichord drips the density like a broken ballerina. It’s a gothic Motown that wows aplenty and sprays you in its autumnal hues. “It’s Coming It’s Real” also brings a gauzy relief, its lovely song-form backed by Anna and Maria von Hausswolff‘s chorusing lilt in which Gira’s words tumble and bloom on a greased precipice, while textures float with a divine smoothness in a gentle ode to love on “What Is This?”, where “Your sword / Guts the sun / Flesh is torn: / Oceans disgorge your love”. 

The schizoid mirror shredding of “My Phantom Limb”, where “…our consciousness is true: it is physical. It is real”. “It is divisible, and consumed”, goes Gira as the chorus materialises on a timpani tilt and the female contrast angels its ascension. A psychosis of destruction / rebirth — intertwined — bent to the reverence of love, the “one annihilating thought”, as Gira states. “Clenched in your fist, I happily cease to exist”, he insists. “Every thought is a capsule bursting, spilling its seeds in space … you destroy me, you are sacred”, slicing right through all that soppy radio-friendly syrup love is usually represented by.

Leaving Meaning is another inexhaustible resource from a band that’s been metaphorically digging under the skin for decades, right into the spongy marrow of existence.

-Michael Rodham-Heaps-