The Swans have always been an engimatic band, and that trait perhaps is best rooted in the choice of moniker. Front man Michael Gira picked up the sobriquet because, as he opined, "Swans are majestic beautiful looking creatures…with really ugly temperaments". Kinda like critics, doncha think? Hang on a minute, lemmee take a gander at some of my confreres' mugs on Google. Hmmm, there's, egads!, John, and I can see, oh God!, Martin, and, Lord save us, Dean and Darren too. Then there was, yikes!, Lester and, oh this can't be true, Rolling Stone David. Sweet Jesus! So what about Gira himself. Lessee here, hm, yikes!…well, he's a rather daunting individual, isn't he? Okay, I take the remark back. I guess we all stayed ugly ducklings one way or the other. The temper part holds 100%, however, and the opening cut to this 2-CD set (3-LP if ya get it that way…and I advise it, as vinyl's definitely the best if you can afford it), the dark Screen Shot, is a bluesrock trancerock doomy effort very much in…yes, it's true, that four-letter obscenity neither the N.Y. Times nor Time magazine nor Spin can quite figger out right now while praising the bejeezus out of the band: prog.
Gira, ya see, wasn't one of the too many punk hammerheads so proliferant in the 80s but instead an intense glowering intelligence out of place wherever he went and thus consigned to a different Hell, the one whose gateway's wreathed with a tattery banner inditing "This place sucks, but, fuck it, enter anyway. Watch yer ass!!". Earth, in other words. Dante and Vergil were jacking with us on that count, 'cause that's the proscenium they mounted too, before taking the plunge. I know this because I was taking portal tickets at the time, and the bastards tried slipping by me. I didn't see Gira as he sauntered up and when I finally did, it was too late. All I could was take to my heels and hope he couldn't catch up.
That was a forlorn hope, and this is what Swans CDs have been since the reformation of the ensemble in 2010, that dogged implacable trek to light fires, crunch consciousness, open volcanoes, and create elegant mayhem. Swift, Pope, and De Sade would've used his work for their lives' soundtracks had they been contemporary. Don't, however, take that for the all-encompassing brouhaha it sounds to be, for the non-stop Stygian conflagration you're thinking of, as Just a Little Boy (wrought for Chester Burnett [Howlin' Wolf]) is a actually re-evocation of The Stooges' most ignored eerie mellow slice: We Will Fall, one of my all-time fave Ig songs, a cut soaked in John Cale. Despair and cynicism, ya see, take many forms, and Little Boy is one of its most spookily delicious incarnations, something rarely brought to pen and string.
Then there's the Akron influence, with A Little God in My Hands, a track invaded by Pere Ubu, occasional tints of Kraftwerk (early and late), and no end of ebony ornamentalia. Next the Branca-esque intro to the half-hour-plus Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture comes crashing in before subsiding into oceanic waves and undulations, showing Deuter and Terry Riley the spine and claws of trance, the literary Druidic factor…along with Morrisonesque imprecations. And that, y'all, isn't even half the two-hour banquet. I'm leaving the rest to your discoveries (note the times below), and if you catch more than a little of the Melvins' righteously bizarre Honky, then you're on the right wavelength. Don't forget your tin foil hat, and beware sudden fissures in the ground.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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