"Swans wasn’t so bad after all..."
October 18, 2010 11:06 AM   Subscribe

In the 80s and 90s, Swans made music that moved from dissonance to melody, sometimes mixing the two (and with some diversions along the way). They broke up in 1997.

After an experience playing on stage with his new band, Angels of Light, vocalist Michael Gira decided to reform Swans. Although without Jarboe, central to the old Swans sound, they have recently released a new album, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, and are on tour, getting generally positive reviews.
posted by Grinder (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Boom boom boom! Boom boom boom boom!
posted by box at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The label (Young God Records) is full of good things, and not all of them are variations of Swans.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:37 AM on October 18, 2010

I don't have much to say about the Swans' early years, because at the time it wasn't really my kind of music and what they were making then could still give any serious noise band the heebie-jeebies. Most of what I remember has to more to do with received memories and opinions, since they were so popular for namechecking in music zines.

But the Swans softened a little, I've warmed to them a little, and somewhere between then and now picked up "Children of God", which is kinda' sorta' their "Daydream Nation", in terms of promoting the band out of ultra hipster obscurity and into a spotlight of sorts. No idea what to think of a Jarboe-less Swans.
posted by ardgedee at 11:45 AM on October 18, 2010

grandpa's mad
posted by ennui.bz at 11:47 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I saw them at their Montreal show, and they were incredible live. Check them out if you have a chance.
posted by Jairus at 11:48 AM on October 18, 2010

Omniscience still ranks as one of my all-time favorite albums. Though a Swans without Jarboe seems kind of an alien idea to me, I'll definitely check out the new album.

One of the early Swans bass players started a band called Of Cabbages And Kings. I used to run into him at parties. I was lobbying to be let in the band, but never had the self-confidence to just come out and ask....
posted by lumpenprole at 12:06 PM on October 18, 2010

I am a huge Swans fan and have seen them several times. I've also followed Michael's solo stuff and have several side projects as well. I dig Angels of Light, but have mixed feelings about them. I'm not sure what to think of the idea of a Swans project without Jarboe.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:17 PM on October 18, 2010

Wonderful. I personally love both very early Swans and their later, more nuanced output. Thanks for this.
posted by mykescipark at 12:21 PM on October 18, 2010

I was really into their early stuff but only saw them once when they were playing the later melodic stuff. I'll have to give Children of God a spin and see how well it's held up over the years.
posted by Guy Innagorillasuit at 12:26 PM on October 18, 2010

Gira donated an unreleased version of Rose of Los Angeles to my blogathon in 2006. Fans may dig it.
posted by dobbs at 12:52 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fuck. Yes.
posted by boo_radley at 1:04 PM on October 18, 2010

I saw Akron/Family three times. The first show I saw was mesmerizing, over two hours, culminating in the band playing unamplified in the center of the venue for the few who were still hanging around at 2 AM on a Tuesday night (when I finally left, they still hadn't quit). Jammy, yes, but incredibly tight and full of the best kind of tension. They could turn on a dime and sound like the Minutemen one second and Faust the next. Never devolving into noodly hippy-dippy cliche. But by the third time they had done just that, turning into a grotesque tie-dyed parody with an incredibly unpleasant, forcedly-cheerful "everybody boogie with us or else" cultlike vibe.

I don't know why I'm mentioning this other than they were on Young God and served as Angels of Light for a while. I've never cared that much about Swans.
posted by anazgnos at 1:06 PM on October 18, 2010

Jonathan Kane was Swans' founding drummer--I think he played only on their very first few releases. The music he makes today blends the repetition of minimalism and rhythm of the blues to thunderous effect; see for example Gripped, from his 2009 album Jet Ear Party. He also occasionally plays more straight-ahead blues with Kane Bros. Blue Band. Even better live.
posted by bassomatic at 1:10 PM on October 18, 2010

Best three chord song ever. I saw them live just before the Children of God tour and they were goddamn great.
posted by googly at 1:19 PM on October 18, 2010

"Children of God", which is kinda' sorta' their "Daydream Nation", in terms of promoting the band out of ultra hipster obscurity and into a spotlight of sorts.

Really? I would've thought it was The Burning World. Produced by Bill Laswell, it has probably the most ear-friendly rich & textured production of any Swans album.

Failing that, White Light from the Mouth of Infinity and Love of Life were the albums that people seemed to pick up on most, very much more anthemic and Daydream Nation like than the jarring albums up to and including Children of God.

I was lucky enough to see Swans live in Amsterdam on their farewell (Soundtracks for the Blind) tour, and also Michael Gira solo at the Nick Cave curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, held on an island in Sydney Harbour.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:24 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

going to see them next thursday. cannot. fucking. wait.
posted by soi-disant at 1:36 PM on October 18, 2010

Came here to say the exact same thing as anazgnos. The last Akron/Family show I went to, I felt the need to apologize to my friends, that they really do have good songs and lots of talent, they just decided to play brainless jam-band 'tribal jams' or something of that sort. I suppose they really needed that fourth member.
posted by tmcw at 1:52 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for a whimsical, light-hearted dance around the maypole, you should totally check out Michael Gira's The Consumer.
posted by Ratio at 2:07 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Swans are in the category of "bands I know I ought to like, given who has recommended them to me and their location in the Strange Band Taxonomy." I keep trying, once every few years, but have yet to locate that gateway album that will bring me into the fold.
posted by adipocere at 2:24 PM on October 18, 2010

> Really? I would've thought it was The Burning World.

I'm not comparing the music on Children of God to Daydream Nation - they're pretty far apart by that measure.

It's that Children of God was the point (at least in my recollection) where the band went from scary-and-obscure to something that even people who weren't avid about the music scene knew about. The popular breakthrough, for some small measure of popularity. (Also, like Daydream Nation, it was the first full album that I could sit through...)

It was the first album they made that I remember seeing advertisements for outside of the independent music press - the label might've even put one in Spin.
posted by ardgedee at 2:26 PM on October 18, 2010

Coupla things:

First, I had heard (though trawling the links leaves me without any backup on this) that Gira had become born again, and that "Saved" was literal.

Second, my father once made my girlfriend a mix of music that was labelled as "Blue Oyster Cult" on Napster, and it had a Swans tune on it, and the idea of confusing the two always cracked me up a bit.

Three, for folks who like some of the dark vibe but don't want (as much) noise, Indian Jewelry are a pretty good band that get accused of being a Swans knock-off pretty regularly.
posted by klangklangston at 2:27 PM on October 18, 2010

Gira had become born again, and that "Saved" was literal.

Ha, and I always took it as the height of bitter irony.

("Yeah, I'm saved" = "God, am I ever totally fucked!")
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:30 PM on October 18, 2010

Delighted to see the recent show in Brooklyn. Always admired them in theory but had mixed feelings about the recorded work.

Live, the sound was something else entirely. One of the best shows of my life. Ferocious, uplifting, bigger than the universe. Now I need to go listen to all the albums for the first time to find out what I've been missing.
posted by Erroneous at 2:51 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

One of my all time favorite bands. Was lucky to see them back in 1985 or '86 and pretty much every year after that until Angels of Light came along. I also caught the farewell tour which was great. The early shows were incredible. There's video floating around out there on YouTube etc.

I have The Consumer around here somewhere, and I even have the split-tape of readings that Gira did with Lydia Lunch. Real uplifting stuff.
posted by misterpatrick at 4:01 PM on October 18, 2010

My version of The Consumer is autographed. But now I'm thinking "shit, I swear I picked up that tape of readings at the same time; I wonder what the hell happened to it? I don't remember ever getting around to listening to it..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:22 PM on October 18, 2010

adipocere: I was in that same position several years back, and what really got me into them was the live double album Swans are Dead, particularly the long, slow buildup to "The Sound" on the second disc. YMMV, obviously.
posted by whir at 4:23 PM on October 18, 2010

One of the best shows of my life.

Seconded. Absolutely unreal live show, and one of the best I've ever seen. That dude Thor (the second percussionist) is a beast! As my brother said: 'Miss this at your peril.'
posted by interrupt at 4:24 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thirded. Saw them at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago a couple weeks ago. I thought the Angels of Light/Akron/Family-related stuff was a bit wimpy and boring, so I went in skeptical. I was blown away; although I've heard louder shows, this band knows how to use loudness for absolute maximum impact. I probably sustained some hearing damage, but it was totally worth it. Now I can imagine how their studio-recorded material is really supposed to sound. Oh and Thor Harris is awesome.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 5:42 PM on October 18, 2010

Children of God is Daydream Nation. The Burning World is Dirty.
posted by box at 8:14 PM on October 18, 2010

Here's a recording of the Bottom Lounge show.

I was there and they blew me away. I'm back now, though.
posted by mike_bling at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2010

But The Burning World has the Mapplethorpe lily cover - that's equivalent to the candle on Daydream Nation.

As opposed to, I forget, probably some cartoon bunnies disembowelling each other with oversized carrots.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:18 PM on October 18, 2010

What's this about moving from dissonance to melody? Those are unrelated concepts; a melody can be dissonant or consonant; consonance and dissonance can be amelodic or melodic.
posted by kenko at 12:31 AM on October 19, 2010

I've got one thing to say
posted by vers at 8:03 AM on October 19, 2010

I was never really in to The Swans, but I am enjoying the new album.
posted by Theta States at 9:00 AM on October 19, 2010

I'll be there in SF in February, for sure. I first got hooked on Omniscience, and then picked up pretty much everything (including a 4$ copy of The Burning World at a used CD shop!)

Nothing compares to Swans Are Dead--as the literature says, it's completely overwhelming.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:22 AM on October 19, 2010

Saw them in Chicago this month - AMAZING.
posted by agregoli at 3:31 PM on October 19, 2010

We had to move all the CDs in our house to a room blocked off from our oldest kiddo because the S's were right at tooth level as she was teething. Most of them bear witness to her little teefs cutting through her gums on the hard plastic CD cases. The vinyl was already safely tucked away because she destroyed the turn table a little earlier... And it was always The Swans that she'd go for, despite various other S artists in the same row. A friend of ours got The Consumer signed by Michael to her. She's 12 now. I suppose maybe we should send the book with her to college.

Amazing, amazing concerts.
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:22 PM on October 21, 2010

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