Swans SwansMy Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
The best thing about facing the return of the Swans, as required by journalistic rigor, is having a good reason to dust off albums like “Filth” (1983) or “Cop” (1984). “Filth” and “Cop”, and the complementary “Young God EP” (1984), are like films by Michael Haneke: works that don’t allow for a casual approach. Their contents are too intense, too terrifying to pass for mere pastimes. You don’t listen to the two first albums from Swans: you face them. And if you survive without too much collateral damage, you discover that the passing of time has barely made a dent in their formidable load of dark energy. Almost three decades later, “Filth” and “Cop” continue to be two peaks of musical extremism. Many others have tried to beat them later using the same weapons – Unsane, Godflesh, Today Is The Day, just to name a few– but their value transcends the merely formal, since their real power lies in their sincerity, in their blind fury.
It is precisely the tempering of this rage, its channelling and sophistication, which would define the second phase of Swans, always under the direction of Michael Gira. “Holy Money” (1986), “Children Of God” (1987), “The Burning World” (1989) and all of the works that would follow them until the final “Soundtracks for the Blind” (1996), with the increasingly notorious implementation of acoustic instruments, epic pomposity, and the omniscient presence of Jarboe (Gira’s partner and, for the hardcore fan sector, the New York band’s Yoko Ono) establish a line of progress that not all of the group’s followers would like equally well. There were always some hoping for a return to the brutality of “Filth” and “Cop”. This return was always possible, given Gira’s volatility, but it never happened.
So is “My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky,” the Swans’ first album in thirteen years, that return to their essence? Yes and no.
Yes, because the emotional tension of the first recordings is back again, less polished than would be predictable at this stage of the game (Gira and the majority of his henchmen are over fifty) and especially because the pomposity of their last works—there is no trace of Jarboe– now gives way to a crepuscular and wonderfully measured, grandiose when it needs to be “No Words / No Thoughts”, “Jim”, “Inside Madeline” and a crude, direct format when the situation requires it – “Reeling the Liars in” , “My Birth” , “You Fucking People Make Me Sick” , “Eden Prison”. And no, because the Swans (or Michael Gira—in this case, it amounts to the same thing) is an intelligent, evolving entity which is far from self-satisfied, and which continues to search for the register that best suits his concerns, pecking at country and folk in this case without sacrificing an inch of his abrasive personality.
So, “My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to The Sky” is much more than the Swans reunion album. If it were only that, we would have been satisfied with a couple of nods here and there. What it is, is a magnificent work put out by a group that should be listened to closely before you notice their name.
Swans - You Fucking People Make Me Sick Swans - Reeling The Liars In