Outloud Glowing Man Review

Review: Swans – The Glowing Man
By Andy Garcia

To get a human into a trance state isn’t an easy task; hypnotization or some other form of stimuli is needed. Midway through Swans’ latest and final effort The Glowing Man, I caught myself slipping and dissociating from some of my senses, due to the rhythmic churning of guitars and crashing cymbals on track “Frankie M”. “Break a glass, stab his eye, choke his neck, nothing’s left.” The track’s violent thrashing culminated in this verse that was as disparate as the music itself.

Michael Gira, lead singer and guitarist of the band, founded Swans in 1982 in the midst of New York’s booming No Wave scene. The term “No Wave” was first coined in NYC as a rejection to the current sounds of New Wave, which were popular during the late 1970s and ‘80s. Dissonance and noise were key factors in the sound of No Wave, reflected in Swans’ earlier and current work.

“Cloud of Forgetting” opens the album with swirling organs and the light strumming of an acoustic guitar. The tension already starts to build as instruments glide against each other, with bass and drums giving the track it’s structure. Gira chants, “walking, counting, breathing, reaching” ominously over the song, like some type of mystic dirge.

“Cloud of Unknowing” opens with some demented cello from the other side of the world, courtesy of Okkyung Lee, a South Korean native who has done for the cello what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar. Pulsing drums and distorted guitar propel the track into a state of repetition, with Gira moaning and groaning over the music. Then the rage subsides and church bells are heard over the bass riffs and jazz drums.

“The World Looks Red/ The World Looks Black” follows the last suite with piano dancing over a repetitive twangy guitar riff. The groove picks up, and the song takes on jagged synths as it progresses.

“People Like Us” ends some of the relenting sounds that the album has thrown at the listener. The tracks mentioned earlier run from 12 to 25 minutes, so a 4-minute piece of dulcimer and soothing female vocals is refreshing.

“When Will I Return?” was written by Gira for his wife Jennifer Gira to sing. The song gruesomely details a sexual assault that his wife had suffered. “His hands are on my throat, my key is in his eye, I’m splayed here on some curb, shards of glass.” It’s deafening, but the song hits a steady tempo reminiscent of a march. Organs and guitars keep the song alive.

On the title track, “The Glowing Man”, Swans beat down on the listener with an entrancing set of two chord guitar riffs on repeat. The song moves at different speeds, slowing down and picking up again. Gira yells, “I am a growing, glowing man. I am a nothing, nothing man.”

“Finally, Peace” closes the album on a sweet note. Strings bring an end to the barrage that Swans had played throughout the album. The song is uplifting, yet soul crushing – two extremes that this band can masterfully put down on tape.