below the water…..

Artists : Swans

Album : My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

Lable : Young God

Release Date : 21st September 2010

I’ve taken a bit of time to get to this one. It’s been mithering me for a review for a while and I finally found the time to give it a proper listen. With a gap of thirteen years between this and the last Swans album the anticipation was huge.

The new version of the Swans consists of former as well as new members including guitarists Norman Westberg and Christoph Hahn, drummer/percussionist Phil Puleo and drummer Thor Harris, and bassist Chris Pravdica. Guests include Devendra Banhart, Bill Rieflin , and Mercury Rev’s Grasshopper.

The ominous chimes that start the nine-and-a-half-minute opener, “No Words/No Thoughts,” morph into martial drumming and layers of guitars as Gira delivers a powerful vocal. As a manifesto for the return of this legendary band it’s a corker. The shorter acoustically framed “Reeling the liars in” is a blessed relief after the intensity of the opener. The lengthy “Jim” is a blues, but with that eerie sort of feel that Nick Cave manages to give it – Gira’s use of light and shade is excellent and there is a sense of real menace with the music which adds to impact. The Cave comparisons can be continued with the mammoth “My Birth” which is extremely intense. The interestingly titled “You fucking people make sick” starts with some aboriginal sounds and then transforms into almost post-rock guitar fettling with a Devandra Banhart cameo, alongside one of Gira’s kids.  The track then morphs into a clattering realm of percussive piano bathed in reverb and dense sounds from guitars, synths and any number of other instruments – at one point I thought Stockhausen had entered the building.

“Inside Madeline” has an insistent rolling feel sort of a mutant country dance which morphs into Godspeed territory  but goes beyond their sound into something uniquely Swans like as layers of alien string sounds float around the edges and one chord is insistently strangled out of a guitar, the tension being broken at four minutes in with a vocal section with a touch of “chanson” about it. As a complete contrast “Eden Prison” has a swampy delta feel crossed with some sort of weird klezmer angle as Gira declaims goth like in an Ian McCullough way and the spirits of the Cossacks ride inexorably over the steppes to crush your village. The omnipresent one chord guitar attack breaks the tension, or rather, creates another form of tension entirely by building a sickening wall of sound until the final part of the song kicks in. Marvellous stuff.  The album concludes with the strangely formed “Little Mouth” which moves into Johnny Cash territory with its edgy MOR feel.

A great return and a compelling listen.