It’s here, this is it, the grand finale, the last hurrah for Michael Gira and the gang, the swansong of it all (pun intended), and it couldn’t possibly get better than this.
Swans have had a pretty eventful career over the years in which Gira was the only consistent member, although Norman Westberg was present for all except one. Beginning in the early 80s producing snarling, mechanical no-wave with albums like Public Castration is a Good Idea (yes that is an actual album title, makes for a good t-shirt), and Filth, the best workout album ever produced. Jarboe joined the band in the later part of the decade and their sound acquired a dimension beyond blind rage and fury with albums like Children of God. Then in 1996 they produced Soundtracks for the Blind – a behemoth of an album assembled from decaying tapes chopped and screwed in a way so as to create something quite unlike that which had been seen before in rock music. They broke up, declared Swans are Dead, then reformed in 2010, and it is in this revival that the we find ourselves now. In recent albums the sonic legacy of Swans as a band converged in on itself creating huge swathes of apocalyptic noise. Swans appeals to this inadequacy that we all feel as adult beings; a base, primal fear that we are all fundamentally alone, some existential torment beneath the surface of common thought. I’m getting ahead of myself but it’s been a long time since I have been genuinely excited about an album like this. The Glowing Man is quite possibly the last album that Swans will ever produce, and what a high note on which to finish.
With The Glowing Man, Swans have crafted 8 pieces of music, the majority of which are over 10 minutes in length, that together make one of the most cohesive and texturally rich rock albums ever. These are not typical songs, they’re serious compositions. Swans take an approach to their music very much influenced by fellow no-wave alumni Glenn Branca, utilising tonality, complex rhythmic patterns and an insane amount of layers in order to create a sound that feels huge. The dulcimer and lapsteel guitar is back from the two previous releases, again lending the music a fullness of sound and distinct warmth that cannot be found elsewhere. Swans are able to find a balance between the smoothness and tenderness of the background drone created by the lapsteel and dulcimer and the heaviness of the bass guitar and drum. The guitars and drums are able to lock into these really crunchy grooves, like the musical equivalent of putting your brain under a piston hammer. Gira also follows the lyrical traditions of the previous releases, shouting simple phrases at the listener with a manic delivery. The music constantly builds and releases tension, maintaining a groove throughout that is unleashed in its full potential at just the right moment. The opening two tracks, “The Cloud of Forgetting” and “Cloud of Unknowing” feature this dynamic heavily, building with a series of drones and basslines elevating in aggression until the crescendo, when all emotion is released at once. Unlike dubstep however, the ‘drop’ evolves out of the song’s beginning as the band continually adds layer upon layer of instrumentation to the mix.
One gets the impression that the music on this album is arranged just so; as if every single thing has a purpose to serve in the overall listening experience. One can only wish the band members well for whatever they have in store for the future.
Review by Eamonn Kelly