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05.01.12 Wilecha0te's Definitive Guide To Swans 04.29.12 Chaotetronica
01.31.11 Cha0te Digs01.14.11 Obscure Depression Songs
01.08.11 Post-punking And Early-gothing01.04.11 Musick For Killing The Ego
01.03.11 Fast, Raw, Thrashy; No Pussy Sh1t!01.01.11 A Tribute To Meatplow!
12.30.10 Alcest Suck!

Wilecha0te's Definitive Guide To Swans

When I started listening to SWANS they quickly filled a void in my rmusical world that i didn't even know existed. They have become my favourite band of all time over the last couple of years and I want to offer my take and be your guide on their discography and associated side-projects. Hope you find something to get into here!

The first official studio release and the first to feature near-constant member Norman Westberg on guitar. Driven by dissonant, ringing guitars, pulsing bass lines and two drummers Filth is one of SWANS most difficult releases to penetrate. Each track pummels you into submission while Michael Gira howls vitriolic nihilism over the whole affair. As was common with SWANS early albums, the lyrics explore themes of power, submission, freedom (or lack thereof) and identity. Gira presents the lyrics in a way that is blunt, impersonal and confrontational. An approach that would be almost entirely left behind on SWANS later releases. This is an excellent album for newcomers to explore if they are interested in the bands' suffocating beginnings. It's a difficult listen but downright melodic compared to the unrivaled depravity of their next few studio efforts... Fans of Godflesh's "Streetcleaner" album will immediately recognize why early SWANS is often listed as such a big influence. Choice Tracks: Stay Here, Big Strong Boss, Weakling

Filth may have put SWANS on the map both in New York and the experimental music scene of the mid-80's, but Cop, and its follow up sister EP Young God, solidified them as legendary. Cop features the sonic and lyrical ideas that were presented on Filth taken to their logical extreme. There are not guitar 'lines' as much as there are immensely distorted thrusts of discordant strums scattered around haphazardly. Gone are the pulsing bass lines in favor of a raw pummeling serving to complement the plodding percussion. The whole thing is played at about 1/3 the tempo of Filth (which was not an "uptempo" album to begin with...) and Gira's shouting has become more of a dirge-like, droning wail. He delivers lyrical blunt force trauma with such an angle of disgust and self-loathing that you'll be reaching for your black metal albums in the hopes that they will cheer you up. "No one rapes them, like a cop, with a club, in jail..." Choice Tracks: Half Life, Why Hide, Clay Man, Cop
Young God

Young God (as mentioned above) is considered to be the sister EP to Cop. The sound is similar as is the approach to the song-writing and many of lyrical themes explored on Cop are still present. Notably different is a more melodic droning from Gira and the eponymous title track, "Young God", written from the perspective of Ed Gein, giving the lyrical delivery a more personal feel. This was as confrontationally dark and unpleasant as SWANS were ever to be. The last of the 'First Phase' of their discography, this release is absolutely essential for anyone hoping to take in the full SWANS experience. Choice Tracks: Young God, I Crawled, Raping a Slave, This is Mine

Both released in 1986, Greed and Holy Money marked the first in a number of metamorphoses SWANS would undergo over the course of their career. Greed/Holy Money saw the band experimenting with more melodic approaches to song writing utilizing piano, synthesizer and, on some tracks, drum machine. Sometimes incorrectly considered to be their "Industrial Rock" phase, these albums, other than some slight influence exercise, share about as much in common with Industrial as Filth shared with "No-Wave". The themes explored remain familiar but they are delivered with an almost sardonic, black humour rather than with the self- deprecating bleakness of Cop or Young God. "Time is Money (Bastard)" is a prime example as Gira delivers lyrics such as "Someone less privileged than you should use you... someone weaker than you should rape you..." over an undeniably danceable drum-machine driven rhythm. The power dynamic is still present, but in this track it is the weak and powerless subjugating and abusing the authority figure. Choice Tracks: Time is Money (Bastard), Money is Flesh
Holy Money

Similar in many ways to Greed but distinguished by the first time, front-line presence of Jarboe both in a compositional and vocal role. Her presence at the writers' table contributed enormously to SWANS trying to break out from the niche they created and this album features her first "solo" performance on an early version of "Blackmail". She is also credited on Greed but this is the first album where she is featured in such a frontline role. The Gira/Jarboe dynamic would become a common theme through most of the bands' career from this point on. Gira still contributes almost all of the lyrical writing throughout the bands' career but there are many songs written specifically for Jarboe to perform. The previous 4 albums are available on the outstanding two disc collection "Cop/Young God/Greed/Holy Money". It's an excellent way to own everything you need from the early part of SWANS' career. Choice Tracks: A Screw (Holy Money), Blackmail, A Hanging
Children of God

A landmark release in SWANS career and arguably the one that took me the longest to appreciate. This massive, 2 LP album features the most obvious experimentation in the bands' discography. Keyboards and synthesizer play a much larger role alongside Gira and Westberg's droning guitar lines and the percussion is notably flashier featuring almost tribal tom work and triplet fills. Michael's voice has moved away from the confrontational hollering that marked the earlier releases and into the melodic, pastoral baritone that will become the trademark of their latter career. The lyrical delivery is almost comically morose at times and sonically, this album is more inviting than its predecessors with its emphasis on atmosphere rather than alienating brutality. By this time Gira had become distanced from the bands' reputation as "The loudest band ever" and with Jarboe's influence was steering SWANS into new territories lyrically and sonically. This album focuses almost entirely on religious themes, not necessarily to be an indictment of religion, but to expose its hypocrisies, its power dynamics and, at times, its 'beauty'. Gira has stated he was fascinated with evangelical preachers and their ability to captivate an audience and his lyrical delivery in many of the tracks mirrors the approach of the Fire n' Brimstone preachers of the deep south. This was also the first album to feature a number of solo vocal performances from Jarboe, her angelic and operatic voice meant as a foil against Gira's bluesy baritone. These tracks make this album for many people... For me, they took it down a few pegs. With the exception of "Blackmail" from this album, I found Jarboe solo tracks unfortunately skippable until the mammoth "Great Annihilator" record... Choice Tracks: New Mind, Beautiful Child, Blackmail, Trust Me, You?re Not Real, Children of God
The Burning World

SWANS first and only experience with a major label, The Burning World is often maligned by fans and openly disliked by Michael Gira himself. Their approach is notably softer featuring much more emphasis on acoustic instrumentation and storied ballads. Gira (and many critics) have called this a "compromised" SWANS album due to the label's insistence that Bill Laswell take over production duties during recording. Gira has stated that while he enjoys Laswell's work in general, they were at odds with their vision for the album and as a result the final cut was buried in world music influences the band was not interested in pursuing on their own. What is often overlooked is the fact that this is still an excellent album! It's downright easy listening, especially when compared to their earlier work, but it shows Gira developing as a songwriter on career gems like "Let it Come Down" and "God Damn the Sun" which practically out-Cohens Mr. Leonard Cohen himself. I listened to this one last and expected to hate it, but I absolutely do not. Not my favorite, but always a go-to when I want something a little easier out of the bands' canon. This album could be considered a forefather to Gira's work with his "Angels of Light" project... Choice Tracks: Let it Come Down, Saved, God Damn the Sun
White Light from the Mouth of Infinity

The first release from the almost forgotten 'Bunny Period' so named for the Deryk Thomas bunny paintings that adorn the album covers. This album came after the dissolution of SWANS major label contract following the critical and commercial flop of "The Burning World". This album begins to concisely bring together the elements that made both their early and mid- career work so captivating. The pounding bass and huge dissonant guitar riffs are back, when necessary, but they are juxtaposed with acoustic, pastoral sections to provide much more diversity across the songs than had previously been heard. There is a clear return to form here for Gira with his deep baritone sounding more confident than ever and the lyrics taking on a much more abstract and personal tone. With tracks like "Better than You", "Failure" and "Love Will Save You" I would argue that White Light From the Mouth of Infinity is one of the unsung gems of SWANS' career. It is a shame that this album has been out of print for so long... I was lucky enough to find a copy at a local used shop and it has been on constant rotation since. Choice Tracks: Better than You, Failure, Power and Sacrifice, You Know (nothing), Love Will Save You
Love of Life

Released a year after White Light, this is the album that gets repeat play the least for me. The sound is similar to White Light with its emphasis on guitar driven art-rock, but the tracks themselves are just not as consistently strong as those on its predecessor. This album is notable for beginning to feature interludes of looped found-sound recordings following some of the tracks, an idea which was taken to its peak on the magnum opus "Soundtracks for the Blind" several years later. This was also the only album not to feature a guitar contribution from Norman Westberg. Excerpts from this album, White Light and The Burning World are available on the compilation 2 Disc set "Various Failures". The Burning World is getting a proper re-release within the next month(!) and hopefully the Bunny Period albums will get the same treatment. Choice Tracks: Her, The Golden Boy that was Swallowed by the Sea, Amnesia.
The Great Annihilator

As far as I am concerned this is the zenith, the absolute jewel of SWANS career. It is my favourite by them and one of my favourite albums of all time by anybody. Every track on the album is incredibly strong. Dense, swirling atmospheres, perfect guitar interplay and the best lyrics Gira has ever written. Ranging the gamut from indictments of celebrity pop-culture on "Celebrity Lifestyle" with its almost pop delivery, to esoteric musings on the makeup of the universe on "Mind/Body/Light/Sound" and the title track, this is at once an incredibly diverse and still perfectly cohesive album. As I alluded to briefly during the Children of God section, even the Jarboe solo tracks are outstanding on this release. Her brutal hollering on "Mother/Father" will make your skin crawl and her angelic delivery on "Mother?s Milk" has not been this breathtaking since "Blackmail". I can listen to this entire album, start to finish, and then immediately want to start it all over again. Honestly, I'm not even able to objectively review it for the purpose of this list, I like it that much. Even people who are not able to appreciate most of SWANS work should be able to appreciate this. A perfect album. Choice Tracks: She Lives, Celebrity Lifestyle, Killing for Company, Alcohol the Seed, Mother/Father, Telepathy, Where does a Body End?
Soundtracks for the Blind

This was the final studio release before SWANS 14 year hiatus. Originally billed as the last SWANS album ever by Gira it is an absolute sonic culmination of their career. Exhausted physically, emotionally and financially and watching his personal relationship with Jarboe dissolve, Michael become fed up with trying to keep the SWANS name alive and (temporarily, thankfully) terminated the band in fine style. This is release is a mammoth 2 disc gauntlet of emotionally draining movements featuring some of the most breathtaking moments in the bands canon. Incredible, cinematic post-rock tracks like "Helpless Child" and "The Sound" would become direct influences on the post-rock movement popularized by Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Mogwai. The aforementioned "Helpless Child" features some of the most heartbreaking lyrics Gira has ever penned without succumbing to almost comic morbidity of some of his previous work. The explorations with found-recordings were re-examined here on pieces like "I was a Prisoner in Your Skull" and Michael has the band working more with cinematic drone manipulations than arty guitar rock. This approach would be continued on the Michael Gira side projects "The Body Lovers" and "The Body Haters". Strangely, this is where I actually started with SWANS. I worked my way back from there. I do not recommend this course of action for newcomers as Soundtracks really does feel like an ending in retrospect. The death of a band. It captures the feelings of isolation and termination so well I didn't even realize it in its entirety until writing this while listening to "Helpless Child". I was also very lucky in that I did not start listening intently to SWANS until about a year before they reformed and released a new album... Choice Tracks: I was a Prinsoner in your Skull, Helpless Child, All Lined Up, The Sound, The Final Sacrifice, Animus.
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

2010, after a 14 year hiatus in which Gira worked primarily on his Americana project "The Angels of Light" as well as focusing on recording and release the music of other artists on the Young God record label, SWANS reconvened for an unexpected new studio album! Absent in this case is long standing contributor Jarboe but the end product does not suffer as a result. Most songs focus on long, crescendos of post-rock intensity but unlike the passages from Soundtracks, which focused on subtle, melancholic melodies, My Father is far more aggressive in its intent. Opening track "No Words/No Thoughts" defines this approach with a grinding, repetition through its opening section before settling into a calmer vocal driven passage, before bursting into a crescendo of tribal noise reminiscent of their early career but with much more concern give to melody. The fabulously titled "You Fucking People Make me Sick" and "Reeling the Liars In" maintain a quieter approach musically while being as vicious and biting lyrically as SWANS have ever been. The former features a guest vocal by Devendra Banhart (in his only listenable performance imo?) before dissolving into a cacophony of pounding percussion and wailing brass. My Father, as what could be called a 'comeback' album of sorts, proves that Gira's wish to reform SWANS was not an effort to try to cash in on the name but rather is an exceptionally strong release filled with energy and intensity. If it is any indication of the future, this year's "The Seer" should be something to watch for! Choice Tracks: No Words/No Thoughts, Eden Prison, You Fucking People Make Me Sick
13 Swans
Live Releases

SWANS live shows are legendary for their incredible volumes and enveloping, ritualistic atmospheres. Gira has a habit of changing the composition of the setlist from show to show and as a result no two performances are alike. Seven minute songs on an album can become 30 minute epics during a live show. I am sad to say I have not had the pleasure of seeing them live but I certainly hope I can make it happen before they disappear into the shadows again.
14 Swans
Body to Body/Job to Job

Ultra lo-fi live release that can be picked up on the "Filth, Body to Body/Job to Job" compilation release. Intense and visceral, it is a must listen for completionists, but not necessary for new fans.
Public Castration is a Good Idea

Absolutely ferocious document of live SWANS during their early years. For many people this is the live SWANS equivalent to Mayhem's "Live in Leipzig". This, at times, can be even more suffocating than even the studio releases from the same time period and show the band at their most viscerally nihilistic. Recommended! The version of "Money is Flesh" on this release makes the original look downright radio friendly!
Swans Are Dead

This, after Soundtracks, was to be the final document. The last tour before the termination of the band. It is a beautiful, epic 2 disc set with over 2 hours of SWANS at their live best. This has some stunning alternative arrangements of earlier SWANS tracks but is mostly culled from Soundtracks.
We Rose from your Bed with the Sun in Our Head

Released in a limited number through the Young God website in an effort to raise money for the recording of "The Seer". This is made up of one live disc featuring songs that are being developed for the new record as well as re- workings of some older tracks. The second disc, while not a traditional live disc, features Gira presenting skeletal, acoustic outlines of tracks that will appear on the new release. It has my excitement level for the new album piqued! There are many more live releases that I have not covered here that you can track down if you are interested but I feel that these selections provide a good representation of the live side of SWANS.
18 Swans
Side Projects and Notable Diversions

Over the course of the life of SWANS there have been a number of side projects that have sprung up as an aside to the SWANS canon. Some are great, some not so much but for the most part they do succeed in showing different sides of SWANS' key players.
19Angels of Light
New Mother

Arguably the most well-known of Gira's other projects, The Angels of Light operate primarily within an Americana or Southern Gothic paradigm. They are much less noisy with a greater emphasis placed on Gira's lyrical story telling and acoustic guitar. Some albums, notably "Everything is Good Here, Please Come Home" and "We are Him" do incorporate some moments of claustrophobic noise, but for the most part these releases have more in common with Americana outfits like Lambchop, or SWANS' "The Burning World". This was Gira's main musical outlet between 1997 and 2010's "My Father" and they have generated a very dedicated following and mostly strong critical reviews. I do have a few Angels of Light albums and I do enjoy them, but in the end I do not find them as transcendental as most of Gira's work with SWANS.
20 The Body Lovers/The Body Haters
Body Lovers

A logical extension of the atmospheres explored on Soundtracks for the Blind. The Body Lovers focuses primarily on long instrumental build-ups combined with taped voice recordings and is generally melancholic and rather relaxing. The Body Haters is one long track of noisy feedback and aggression with more in common with standard Noise music. Interesting releases but they don't get a great deal of replay from me. I would imagine most people will genuinely enjoy The Body Lovers disc though but I recommend it for completionists primarily.
21Michael Gira

Michael Gira has released a few solo albums that technically do not fit with either the Angels of Light or the SWANS concept. Drainland is my favorite solo release. It features the heart rending "You See Through Me" which is made up of swirling melancholy played against a back drop tape Jarboe made while she was arguing with a very drunk, very belligerent Gira. It offers a rare look into their tumultuous relationship and is more directly personal that most of their work with SWANS. Also worth checking out is the original recording of "All Lined Up" later featured on the Soundtracks album.
22 The World of Skin
Ten Songs from Another World

Skin and World of Skin were collaborative projects between Gira and Jarboe with a softer and folkier approach. It bears greatest similarity to the quieter moments on the Children of God album. While I do find some of it very interesting, a lot of it feels like weak SWANS b-sides and it does not hold my interest consistently.
Sacrificial Cake

Jarboe has carved out a very successful solo career after since her departure from SWANS. She has appeared in guest spots alongside many notable artists such as Justin Broderick, Neurosis and Cobalt as well as putting out a string of critically praised solo records. I do not know these records very well but if you like her contributions to SWANS then you will find something to like among her solo work. "Yab Yum Killers" from the Soundtracks album is featured on the Sacrificial Cake Jarboe album.
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