Swans reform (CD Review)

Swans

My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Young God Records

Swans disbanded way back in 1997, only to reform in 2010 to record a full length LP of new material entitled My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. In the interim, their members have been involved in various projects. Frontman Michael Gira has performed with some of the other members of Swans, as well as with various other collaborators, in the band Angels of Light and as a solo artist. Despite these and other creative outlets (Gira is also an accomplished writer and label head of Young God Records), one can readily understand why he might want to return to Swans, albeit a version that features core members of the group but also includes some new faces (including a guest appearance by Devendra Banhart). The material on My Father will Guide me… is tailor made for the collective’s sonic approach.

That approach is an unusual combination of strenuous, sometimes assaultive, noise and experimental rock elements coupled with a dystopian, disturbing, yet often poignant delicacy. Here, as on their previous recordings, these two patterns of music-making frequently coexist in the same piece. No-wave signatures and blistering distortion is sculpted into incendiary, powerful climaxes. Dulcimer, vibraphone, trumpet, and strings provide a counterweight to the heavily amplified guitars. When the latters’ torrential waves of sound recede, one is left with faint vocal echoes or the gentle tintinnabulation of chimes: unnerving reverberations that seldom provide a real sense of repose.

With My Father will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, the Swans and Gira demonstrate that they are still fully capable of creating powerful and unnerving music. Is it strange that the renewed presence of this band’s gloomy and portentous sonic world seems reassuring? Maybe it’s because now we no longer have to wax nostalgic over Swans LPs from the distant past. Instead, listeners can revel in a venerable band that’s still creating formidable work.

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