07 September 2004

Swans / Angels of Light

Sometimes, it's better to work backwards.

If you're new to Swans it might be a good idea to work backwards through their discography, letting the intensity and the volume gently wind-up until you get to the bassy core of 'Filth' and 'Cop'. Swans make Dylan Thomas's recollection of Swansea (coincidence? i think not) as an ugly/lovely town work for music; even at their earliest and light-suckingly ugliest, Swans music rains down in beautiful shards and it's hardly their fault that they practically invented grind-core but took it to places where no one wanted to go.

And even at their prettiest, on albums like their breakthrough The Burning World (clue in the title, all you folks looking at the Stevie Windwood cover and expecting fun n frolics) they managed to pull their apparently simple music apart, stretching a kind of ur-folk rock across the chasms and letting it fall on the heads of the unsuspecting folk at MCA Records.

They returned to independent labels soon after. After all, most of their music can't even be used in soundtracks; it's too distracting, too liminal, too intense. Freddie Prinz Jr would be hopelessly lost behind even the softest Gira growl.

They always remained at their best live, when their audience couldn't escape.

Seeing them play in the pouring rain at Reading Festival (circa The Burning World) was one of the most magical festival (or any) performances I've seen. Lead singer Michael Gira, long-haired and barefoot, thrashed about the stage intoning 'Let it Come Down' with the voice of God as a deafening storm hammered down. Even people who hated Swans couldn't drag themselves away to the safety and warmth of the beer tents. It was hypnotic in every sense: sensual, visceral, psychological, punitive and enlightening. The hard-core 'Cop' fans who felt they'd sold out with the major deal and pretty tunes stood transfixed, understanding that none of the power had leeched, or been forgetten; understanding that energy doesn't dissipate but simply transforms.

If you have to pick a route through Swans I'd recommend the following (though obviously I'd appreciate alternatives, best tracks etc):

1. White Light from the Mouth of Infinity from 1991
2. The Burning World from 1989
3. Children of God from 1987
4. Holy Money from 1986
5. Cop from 1984
6. Filth from 1983

Swans - Sex God Sex

Later, with Swans dead and burned, Gira formed The Angels of Light, The Body Lovers and World of Skin to continue along the road to God, redemption, love and suffering; dragging new bands and collaborators into the blacklight and playing with new forms and ever-deepening subtexts.

Gira's label Young God Records continues to release wonderful music. Devendra Benhart, Calla and Windsor for the Derby amongst others have been signed up and sent out...more seem to be coming.

The Angels of Light - Praise Your Name


Clayton said...

kinda sounded like the yeah yeah yeahs. I like this blog. I may have to link it.

JR said...

all the 3 skin/world of skin albums came out before swans broke up, so WoS is not a post-Swans project. Gira and Jarboe have not recorded together after the break up of Swans. Check out Jarboe's records too and especially any live shows, some of the most intense, shattering stuff you'll ever see.

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