Review Summary: Swans return, bigger and more frightening than ever
Thank heavens Swans decided to break up (or call it quits for fourteen years, at least) after Soundtracks for the Blind
, because can you even imagine if they tried to continue like that? With that scattershot, whatever-sticks, we-can-basically-do-anything mentality? Swans would just get way too huge; not in popularity, but just in general immenseness. They would eventually release an album that really did everything, and then everything else would just seem minor in comparison. There wouldn't even be need for any other bands, for any other music, if Swans could just do it all. It'd all just be irrelevant, because Swans exist. And they can do everything.
Not that My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
isn't everything, because it's almost everything. It's certainly quite a piece of work, an album that'll make a bunch of people suddenly relieved that there's another Swans album, in a we've missed you
kind of way. It's just more focused and direct than their more sprawling stuff, accomplishing just as much or maybe more with less material.
To accomplish this, Swans have effectively whittled down their approach, taking all of their distinct styles (their Wikipedia page lists eleven possible genres to name the band as; many more could easily be successfully argued for) and blending them together into something that, for once, sounds like nothing more than a Swans album. By taking influence from mostly themselves -- the first track, for example, mixes the aggressive and distorted sounds of Filth
with the gloomy and prolonged sensibilities of White Light...
-- Swans have finally managed to carve out an identity.
This approach alone justifies Swans' reunion and this resulting album: by revisiting their own discography and effectively summing it up, Swans finally get to make an album that defines them as a band, rather than defining an era; it fills a blank void in their repertoire that need to be filled. There's also no denying how generally awesome most of the album is. "No Words/No Thoughts" and "Jim" are some of the most towering, expansive songs you'll hear all year, swelling and building and dropping off abruptly; they're short trips throughout the discography of Swans, and maybe the neurotic mind of Michael Gira. They're undoubtedly engaging.
More important than the band's newfound sense of songcraft is Gira's newfound personality. On past Swans albums, Gira's been a sort of faceless figure, acting as vessel for raw emotions like anger and sadness rather than relating anything personal. But Gira simply looms over this one, his bleak bleat stretched to its stentorian limits, towering over even the most distorted and discordant of songs, like the grim "Eden Prison". His powerful vocals resemble sermonizing more than they do singing; his lyrics could be Revelations, for all I know.
"Little Mouth" could be misconstrued as ending My Father
with a whimper, rather than a bang, but really: how else
could an album this brutal, this gargantuan, end? It's not a whimper: it's a reprieve, a chance to breathe, finally. God knows you'll need it.