Reviews Swans My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky

Swans

My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky

Sitting here listening to the new Swans album, My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky, difficult thoughts ripple through my mind because of how I personally feel about this record and because of how this album is being viewed by the multitudes of people who have been waiting with baited breath to hear what many people have intimated: their excitement over the fact that this is indeed a new Swans album and their simultaneous trepidation for that exact same reason. You see, I have written two other reviews for this record (consider them torn to shreds and lost forever to the abyss) that did not quite capture any semblance of a human feeling regarding the actual reaction that I received while listening to this album the many times that I have so far; lost somewhere in the incessant ramblings was the hint of idea that yes, My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky is anything less than the resounding triumph that it certainly is.

Allow me the briefest of moments to digress while I leave that last statement hanging in the air like the cliffhanger from your favorite TV show; when Michael Gira announced that he was reconvening Swans after ending the outfit over a decade ago, he distanced the project from calling it a reunion (as most reunions are schlocky and down right awful cash grabs by seriously over the hill people looking to continue or improve their ability and capital behind life style maintenance) right from the get go. Yes, Norman Westerberg (guitarist and Swans collaborator for the bulk of its original existence) is back in the fold to pry more squeals from the amplifiers; and no, the divisive Jarboe is not participating this time around the bend (some of you will do your own squeals of delight at hearing that while others might be heartbroken and while others still just will not give a hoot). The surprising (or maybe not so) aspect of this project was just how quickly it all came to fruition considering the relatively short elapsing of time from the moment of the announcement to the point that the album was sitting in my hands; though this is a shorter record (when comparing it to the last few records from Swans like Soundtracks For The Blind, The Great Annihilator, etc) at only eight tracks.

Seriously, when I first put this beast on my stereo, the thoughts of “yes, this is good, but is it blowing me away” were definitely ringing on my skull; so, I thought that maybe this failing was my problem, and I was listening to the record wrong and proceeded to crank the volume to just under the “needs earplugs” threshold to see if maybe that was the issue causing my conundrum. Unfortunately, the volume did not fix or make it any better; and honestly, I was incensed beyond belief at both my inability to immediately fall in love with My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky and Gira and company’s not coming through immediately (this is the internet age is it not and is what we all deserve, correct?) for my instant gratification. Where was my god damn pseudo religious experience that was secretly my subconscious expectation and why is the album immediately going on repeat when it is clearly upsetting me? As if on some hypnotic auto pilot, My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky proceeds to play incessantly on my stereo for hours upon hours while my mind is completely consumed by the sounds with which Swans are subtly assaulting me.

By the time that I realized what was happening, the very essence of My Father… had completely penetrated my subconscious; every groove, every noise, all of it just felt right and as a Swans record should sound and feel (at this given moment being an entity all their own in regards to the other incarnations of Swans) Without a frame of reference, Michael Gira sounds like a manic snake handling preacher from the deepest parts of the Southern United States with his anxious vocal delivery and rich baritone voice (listen to “My Birth” to get an idea); and it is this voice which ties the disparate parts of  My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky together into a cohesive monolithic slab of sound that is ultimately hypnotic and strangely beautiful.

A long time ago Gira learned that sheer volume assaults are not enough and can actually cause an aural numbing effect on listeners, and with this latest Swans album, he and his conspirators employ more than just sheer bludgeoning to affect the senses in a much more dramatic manner that suits this current incarnation of the group. Whether the throbbing rhythms and pounding percussion of pieces like “No Words / No Thoughts” and “Eden Prison” grab you first, or the swirling noise and intense atmospheric elements of “You Fucking People Make Me Sick” or “No Words / No Thoughts”, there is one clear sonic aspect that cuts through the lush sound and that is the sheer mania evident in every piece of music that calls My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky its home.

In a recent interview regarding the new album and the tour, Gira intimated that there were times that he felt the band chickened out with some of the arrangements for the songs; in regards to “No Words / No Thoughts” Gira states, “ I think the intro to this song should have been longer. I showed cowardice here; it should have lasted ten minutes at least instead of the three and a half minutes it is now (The Quietus, 2010).” In the same conversation, Gira puts the blame (besides his possible fear of going overboard with the some of the songs) for these “brief” musical sections (also found during the introduction to “Inside Madeline” and the middle of “Eden Prison”) on the pragmatic issues of studio budget for the album and the distance of some of the collaborators that prevented some of the full musical realizations on the final version of the record. Let me digress here again and state that live, these songs seem to be evolving every night that Gira and company play (which almost begs for a live album from the tour to hear that evolution documented); where restraint and subtlety might be evident for the songs on <i> My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky</i>, power, reckless abandon, and visceral experience is the rule of thumb for the music in the live setting.

Comparing My Father Will Guide Us Up A Rope To The Sky to previous efforts by Swans is considerably difficult (when thinking of how it stands up to their brute force, understated beauty, or entrancing sounds) because Gira and company do not sit still and simply regurgitate motifs or methodologies from the past; instead, Swans pushes forward much as they did in their first go around over the course of over a decade and fashions an excellent addition to their discography. For every bruising sonic explosion on the album (“No Words / No Thoughts”, “Eden Prison”, etc.) there is an equally passive and introspective counterweight (“Jim”, “Little Mouth”, etc.) to balance and flesh the record out into a much more moody affair. Without pretense Swans returns with an excellent album that firmly announces their wish to move forward with their music and sound, and, if this record is not on your list to at least hear this year, then you are missing out because it is an essential release that will surely hypnotize other listeners just as much as it has me.

9.0 / 10Bob
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