SPB's top 5 favourite Swans records (in alphabetical order)
The first Swans full length appeared in 1983 and signified a huge shift in the post-punk landscape. The evocative artwork that speaks in deep and dirty atmospheres and Gira's ability to draw you in whilst repulsing with his soundtracks of decay is testament to his power.
The Great Annihilator
Released in 1995, The Great Annihilator consumes with a monstrous energy that only Swans hold the key to. Moments of space are countered by layers and textures of noise and voice that evolve with a swirling lust.
Greed would herald the beginning of a delightfully agonising musical relationship between Gira and singer-songwriter Jarboe and contained a darkness in sound that Swans had only slightly touched upon in the past.
My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky
Marking Swans return from self-imposed exile in 2010, My Father.... rages in the often imitated but never attained Gira style whilst pertaining to a much more spiritual ideal than anything Swans had produced before.
Soundtracks for the Blind
Soundtracks for the Blind was the tenth record released by Swans and for many signified the end of the project as a recording and live entity. Fantastically ambitious, the double disc release was an amalgamation of various studio and live recordings and sound clips that Gira held onto from the very beginnings of the band. Legend has it that after the album was complete, Gira disposed of anything not used, leaving it to waste and be lost for all eternity. Fitting.
(Words: Cheryl Prime)
SPB's top 10 favorite Swans songs
Sitting and thinking about what my favorite Swans songs are is actually much easier than I thought (whereas my favorite of their albums shift from time to time), and the idea that whenever I listen to random songs from Michael Gira and his co-conspirators in this seminal band, these five songs are always in my playlist not matter what mood or era of Swans I find myself obsessing over at that point in time; in chronological order of when they were written, these are my five favorite Swans songs (and the next five as well because I just could not resist).
“Sensitive Skin” (from the Self-Titled EP (also called the Words EP) (1982))
An odd pick to be sure as not many people talk up Swans first recording (though I am not exactly sure why this EP is treated like the cousin that is locked in the attic, but “Sensitive Skin” strikes me hard and always has ever since the first time that I heard the song; from the outset this is definitely from the band’s most singularly No Wave recording and also predates the participation of long time guitarist Norman Westerberg. “Sensitive Skin” is a dark and menacing piece of music that is propelled by a relentless lurching rhythm and rumbling bass guitar (with a well-placed saxophone part as well) barely keeping the guitar noise in check while Gira rambles on using a delivery more like a spoken word artist; the lyrical imagery is completely disturbing and wholly evocative as the protagonist is taken to a basement while unspeakable acts are committed.
“Stay Here” (from Filth (1983))
As soon as you pop Filth on your turntable or other music listening device, you are completely assaulted by the crushing rhythm and shards of guitar noise; when you read the stories regarding the excessive volumes that Swans played at early in their existence this is one of the songs that you imagine audiences flat out cowering in fear as Gira howls at people while the band attempts to sonically beat them into submission, and all you can do is sit and bask in the sheer power of “Stay Here.”
“Your Property” (from Cop (1984))
A mechanistic proto industrial dirge that has Gira sounding his most overtly threatening in perhaps the entire Swans canon (outside of maybe a few live tracks), and even though the lineage from the other songs on this list is clearly evident, the band seems even more hell bent on sonic malevolence here; “Your Property” possibly sounds like a hurt and cornered animal capable of lashing out at anyone that might hurt it.
Like A Drug (Sha La La La) (from Children Of God (1987))
Without a doubt “Like A Drug (Sha La La La)” will always be near the top of my list when it comes to songs from Swans as it combines several hallmarks of the band into one completely devastating song that is both tense and disturbing; listen as the Swans machine pounds on in a relentless tempo as the guitars, horns and strings create these noisy flourishes that to some extent seemingly places you on some strange factory floor while Gira intones his words in a disaffected tone that just seems like some mind altering chant until the other voices join his to create one of the creepiest choruses ever. This song is a six and a half minute bludgeoning of the senses.
New Mind (from Children Of God (1987))
This sucker gets in my head every time that I listen to it, and the echoes stay with me for hours and hours; Swans uses a simple musical arrangement that is relentless and hypnotic while the band does a call and response vocal motif that is pretty memorable making it one of those songs that I always listen to when I pop the band on my stereo. It reaches back to the musical methods of the earlier albums like Filth and Cop but without sounding so overtly oppressive.
“The River That Runs With Love Won’t Run Dry” (from The Burning World (1989))
Quite honestly, I believe that “The River That Runs With Love Won’t Run Dry” is one of (if not the) prettiest songs that Michael Gira every wrote for Swans (I can listen to the introduction to the song over and over again, constantly pressing the back button on my stereo to bask in its beauty); his rich baritone voice is in full effect while Jarboe brings some sweet sounding background vocals to bear as well, and the wailing, mournful violin (or some other bowed stringed instrument as such, I must admit my inability to differentiate from them sometimes as is the case here) adds so much to the overall timbre of this piece.
“Love Of Life” (from Love Of Life (1992))
Such a fast song that contains some excellent melodies (to be honest I would love to hear this latest incarnation of Swans do this song because I really think they could elevate this track in some amazing ways) cool backing vocals and a hint of power underneath the musical swell and guise of “Love Of Life” being a simple pop song; I also think this is a super underrated song in the band’s canon.
“Killing For Company” (from The Great Annihilator (1995))
There’s something in the overall sound of “Killing For Company” that has always struck me, and maybe that is the quality in that I cannot quite put my finger on just what draws me to listening to the song; plaintive vocals and a resigned and mournful mood seem to dominate the track while still bearing a graceful beauty that is an infectious listen.
The Sound (from Soundtracks For The Blind (1997))
Without a doubt, “The Sound” is my favorite song from Soundtracks For The Blind and is in a stiff competition for one of the prettiest sounding songs from the Swans oeuvre while also being one of the earliest examples of the modern dreaded “post rock” sound (well, it was one of my first brushes with the musical motif); this piece is a slow and powerful build with some wonderful melodies that shows off the more vulnerable vocal capabilities of Gira, and it is one of the songs from the band that I have been known to listen to on repeat for over an hour at a time.
“No Words / No Thoughts” (From My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky (2010))
The crushing re-introduction of Swans to the world following a thirteen year gap is one of their finest moments in my mind with a perfect blend of power and subtle melody simply blasting from speakers in what is absolutely devastating at high volumes (seeing this played live was an awesome experience). “No Words / No Thoughts” contains several hallmarks of the band (being a relentless rhythm and an excellent harnessing of swirling noise) that culminate in making a damn fine song.
Swans mix tape
Here is a really eclectic mix (though you will have to track the songs down) of Swans songs that should hit on enough sounds that might give you an inkling as to the breadth of what the band has done over the last thirty years... This is not a best of, simply some of my favorite songs from most of their musical eras.
- Like A Drug (Sha La La)
- Stay Here
- The River That Runs With Love Won’t Run Dry
- New Mind
- A Piece Of The Sky
- The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By The Sea
- Your Property
- Sex, God, Sex
- No Words / No Thoughts
- Killing For Company
- Song For A Warrior
- You’re Not Real Girl
- Love Of Life
- Beautiful Child
- I Am The Sun
- Sensitive Skin
- The Sound
Photo by elchicodelaleche