Pop Matters leaving meaning. Review

Swans have seemingly become a phoenix-like entity, burning down to ashes through Michael Gira's creative prowess and against all the odds being reborn even more potent every time. When Swans first called it quits in 1997, few would expect their mighty return in 2010. The result was a trilogy of stellar works with The Seer, To Be Kind, and The Glowing Man. Still, in the closing moments of The Glowing Man, some signs of fatigue became noticeable, signaling that the time for another hibernation has come. Gira soon after announced the re-configuration of Swans, turning the band into a collective act featuring rotating line-ups and collaborations. The idea sounded intriguing. But the question remained as to whether Swans could still rise to the artistic levels of their latest trilogy or of the earlier days of Children of God and Soundtracks for the Blind. The answer comes with Leaving Meaning and is a resounding yes.

Leaving Meaning sees the identity of Swans further dissolving, melting through the input of an array of impressive artists that join forces to create a monumental work of art. Apart from the usual suspects, previous Swans and Angels of Light members, Gira brings in the likes of experimental electronic pioneer Ben Frost, alt-neoclassical/darkwave siren Anna von Hausswolf, iconoclastic performance artist Baby Dee and Australian free-jazz shamans the Necks. Surrounding Gira with that ensemble, Swans begin an impressive journey through the minimal artifacts of "Hums", before a gospel-like performance comes to the front with "Annaline".

The first warning comes with "The Hanging Man", as Gira returns to the trademark backward progression that Swans are known for. The repetitive beating creates an asphyxiating environment. But instead of resolving to an over the top distorted sound, the collective retains a smooth and cool perspective with Gira's vocals unleashing a powerful rendition. "Sunbather" follows a similar motif, awakening a noise essence before stepping back into its no-wave roots. The next surprise arrives with the title track as the Necks take over, constructing their subtle free-jazz ambiances around Swan's off-kilter vision, resulting in a meditative moment of pure bliss. The recital continues with "The Dub", with the Necks now combining with Baby Dee for a captivating, harrowing performance calling ethereal visions arriving from the bardo.

The spiritual ride continues, taking a detour through a Southern-influenced gospel territory with "It's Coming It's Real". Then Gira takes a turn for the completely off-kilter as the three final tracks set this record to rest. The Swans have returned, but they are not the same. Through leaving meaning, they have transformed once more, finding their most potent form. That is, at least until the next reincarnation. – Spyros Stasis