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Swans, part 1

Okay, gonna go with a total guest post tonight, this is from Ohio's own Brian parker, and it is the first in a comprehensive series on legendary dirge-rockers,Swans....There will be more to come later, the mega-post thing can wear a brother down, as I think Brian has discovered....still, he has helped me with some other posts, and I hope you enjoy his writing style on this one.....much different from my own drunken, profanity/sarcasm laced efforts, Brian is much more thunderous writer than am I....anyway,I hope he sticks around and helps me out for a while, I like his work and his determination to achieve perfection.....so here we have it, Brian parkers first part of the mega-Swans post, I have read it and it is quite good.......stay tuned for more Brian parker stuff on this site, and if anyone else wishes to guest-post, notify me, I am ALL about that!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

THE SWANS Part 1 - Studio Albums

Swans....how does one even begin to talk about them? They are a group that has managed to stay completely off the cultural radar of most people - including me til about 10 years ago - yet they have created some of the most emotionally devastating music of the past 30 years! Led by primordial baritone Michael Gira, Swans (there technically is no "the") goes unflinchingly to the dark core of human experience. The group has drifted in the shadows while artists with similar intent and not half the INTENSITY have gone multiplatinum.... For those who know, think about it: while the group was sputtering and dying they released albums as genius as "Soundtracks..." and "The Great Annihilator". Meanwhile, everyone in America was buying mid-90's alternative pablum. Damned disgrace.

The key to understanding the group is knowing that Swans have three VERY distinct periods - the early violent albums, the long fruitful middle period when female vocalist Jarboe got more focus in the group, and what I call The Rebirth - albums the group has made since reforming in 2010. What Swans albums you listen to first can often dictate what kind of fan you'll be. For example, a friend of mine loves the early albums like "Cop" and "Holy Money", yet can't stand to listen to Jarboe's haunting material (an opinion I clearly don't share). And some people who are pulled in by the amazing soundscapes of "Children of God" or "Soundtracks For The Blind" can't get their mind around the knife-at-your-throat dirge of the early stuff.

While all these albums originally came out singly, the 2 disc Young God Records reissues are the ones to get. Oh, and you're not getting track listings....that's what Allmusic and Wiki is for. Just dig in, guys.

NOTE: LINKS WILL BE IN COMMENTS, and some of the folders will come out alphabetized and not numbered. The Filth double album, To Be Kind, both "Children of God" discs, The Great Annihilator, "My Father Will Guide Me", and half of "Soundtracks" are OK, but not the rest. Sorry, I'll do better on the next post. Here's a link to the Wiki discography for those who need it the proper order -  

The beginning, and the intensity is there from the start. If you're new, I'd listen to COP first, it's just a more accomplished effort in my opinion. Don't ignore this though, there's good tracks here. The fidelity can be a bit unbalanced at times, but it's assaultive stuff. The 24 minute live track is no-fi, but it's some serious bad live juju....
Disc 2 is other random and live stuff from the period.

Wow, the first eight tracks of this 2 disc comp - which make up the original COP album - is one of the most intense records anyone has ever recorded. With the Devil's backbeat behind him, Gira howls and roars brutal declaritive or accusatory statements: everything is "you, I, love, want, hate, kill".... No metaphors, just a brutally martial war on silence! I just did both discs in prepping this post, and I'm drained.
Things change a bit by disc two. Industrial, almost dance rhythms rear their head on the genius "Time Is Money (Bastard)", and Jarboe's haunting vocals come to the fore on "A Hanging" and "You Need Me". There's even drum less piano-led songs toward the end, showing Swans to be more than a one trick pony. Essential, the whole thing.


Everything changed with this one. I've never heard the albums separately, just in this double disc set. Was originally released as two albums under Gira/Jarboe's other project Skin. Resequenced, it plays  like an awesome double album. So many great songs: the stomp of "New Mind", the ethereal "In My Garden", the dirge of "Sex God Sex", the positively apocalyptic "Beautiful Child", the gradually building epicness of "Trust Me"....and that's just Disc 1! And "1000 Years" is probably my fave Jarboe song, so graceful. And Gira's version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" - with "dog" reversed to "God" - must be heard. Seriously, one of the gems of their catalog. I'm always torn between this album and "Soundtracks For the Blind". "Soundtracks" has the scope, but this one has the songs!

After the artistic failure of the Bill Laswell produced The Burning World, Swans came back strongly with this amazing album. To many highlights to list....look for awesome live versions of this stuff in Post 2.


Listening to this one, a great album from the middle period, I wonder: how did millions of sad teenagers not snap this one up? You figure goths would've loved this! With the interviews and the tightly arranged music, this is almost like a more direct and - dare I say it - poppier "Soundtracks For the Blind".


The thing to take away from this album is the band's knack for an insidious melody within their left-field style. "Celebrity Lifestyle" skewers druggy stardom brilliantly, while the sonorous, multi-part arrangement of "She Lives" points toward more recent efforts like "The Seer". "Mother/Father", a Jarboe-sung number, shows that Gira isn't the only member who can howl angrily. And Jarboe's vocal on "My Buried Child" is the most hauntingly rhythmic performance I've heard in a long time. A classic that went unsung at the time. Sounds utterly contemporary and beautifully produced. When this came out, I was too busy thinking Manson's "Antichrist Superstar" was the height of music...what the hell did I know?


This was the one; the entry point for me, an apotheosis and a seeming ending all at once. I was browsing somewhere and saw this title - how could I resist? I had no idea what I was in for. One of the only 2 CD albums to ever really justify that size; just an epic, sprawling work.
Multi-part, suite-like songs like "Helpless Child" and "The Sound"...soundscapes like "Red Velvet Corridor" and "Surrogate Drone"....indescribable mashups like "I Was A Prisoner In Your Skull" and "How They Suffer" - this one cannot be recommended enough. Still remains their most ambitious work for me. This was followed by 14 years of silence that no one thought would be broken.
NOTE: if there are any Godspeed You Black Emperor! fans reading this, GYBE! lifted their ENTIRE AESTHETIC from this album...

(What followed was a long time, during which Gira released several solo albums, as well as the fascinating Angels of Light material. We'll get to that in post 2 {or 3})


I'd only been a fan for a few years but I didn't see this coming! Now, this Swans is a different animal, if you'll pardon the pun. "No Words/No Thoughts/" builds from bells into a rhythmic monster, "My Birth" is a serpentine beauty. "You Fucking People Make Me Sick" starts with a jew's harp, moves into a singalong with Gira and his daughter, and ends up far out in atonal space. "Inside Madeline goes all over the place before ending in a country waltz. "Eden's Prison" is probably my favorite - just a monster. The 40 minute bonus CD is one long track called "Look at me Go". Indescribable, so just listen to it already.


It's been two years, and I'm still digesting this one. While not quite as emotionally direct (for me) as past masterworks, this one feels epic. However, it requires it's whole runtime to envelop you, given the length of some of the tracks.
My two favorites are two of the shorter tracks: "The Seer Returns", and "Avatar". And the way "A Piece Of the Sky" opens with the sound of a fire is amazing. I saw the band do "Apostate" live last year - that was pretty damn cool.


Opening with the insistent throb of "Screen Shot", To Be Kind shows Swans are not letting up their post-revival onslaught. "Just a Little Boy" has a darkly funny vocal by Gira, as well as some great slide work by Christoph Hahn. A funny story about "A Little God In My Hands": it's got this great
funky rhythm, and when I saw them live last year, Gira turned around and started shaking his ass!
The centerpiece of the album is the 32-minute "Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture". It starts chanting and rhythmic, in the middle gets beautiful and distorted, drifts for awhile...the last part, where Gira starts singing and screaming in French, is awesome! A great album.

Again, for those who waited or came by before...sorry it took so long. A ridiculously prolific group! Post 2 will be live albums, solo material, and the Burning World album.


  1. Filth (plus live)

    Body to Body, Job to Job

    Cop/Young God/Greed/Holy Money Disc 1

    Cop/Young God/Greed/Holy Money Disc 2

    Children of God Disc 1

    Children of God Disc 2

    White Light From the Mouth of Infinity

    Love of Life

    The Great Annihilator

    Soundtracks For The Blind Disc 1

    Soundtracks For The Blind Disc 2

    My Father Will Guide Me...Disc 1

    My Father Will Guide Me...Disc 2

    The Seer Disc 1

    The Seer Disc 2

    To Be Kind Disc 1

    To Be Kind Disc 2
  2. Your enthusiasm has made want to try. Can you recommend a starting point? Keep in mind I'm still trudging through the Boris stuff. And thank you for that.
    1. Grab Cop Disc 1, children of god (both), the great Annihilator, and a little later on listen to Soundtracks For the Blind, then get the post-revival stuff. It's good to have a footing in the early years...it sounds like nothing else that came out in the 80s/90s. Thanks for reading!
    2. I'll get it up on my site after the game, Brian, a good job.


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