Chris Adams narrowly survives an encounter with Swans latest release
Q: What’s the last thing that goes through a fly’s head when it strikes a windshield?
A: It’s ass.
This joke occurred to me after of listening… correction: surviving… The Glowing Man, the magnum opus of legendary Noo Yawk art terrorists, Swans. In this case, I was the fly, and the windshield was the album, which is apparently the band’s… err… swan song. Oh, sure, it all started innocently enough. I merely put the CD on, pressed play, stretched out on the couch, and closed my eyes, ready (or so I thought) to absorb the final word from Michael Gira (the band’s sepulchral singer) and his band of not-particularly-merry men. And then…
…the final notes fade, my eyes open. My ears are still ringing. Man, it’s dark in here. What time is it? Eight O’clock? How long was that album? Two hours? Jesus Christ! Well, at least I’m alive. Almost alive anyway.
This is not a normal reaction to an average evening’s worth of entertainment. But Swans aren’t your average-band. Essentially the vehicle of Gira, the band emerged in 1982 from the No Wave scene that produced such notables as Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, and most famously Sonic Youth – whose Thurston Moore is credited on Swans first release. Gira buried the group in 1997, and after some solo and collaborative work, rolled away the stone with all new musicians in 2010. During both incarnations, Swans have produced some of the most challenging, emotional and occasionally terrifying / beautiful music that could be (loosely) defined as “rock.” Swans M.O. has always been based on experimental instrumentation, noise, repetition and Gira’s voice, which is deeper than hell and arguably as scary. To get a thematic flavor of what we’re dealing with, consider the following album titles: “Filth”, “Greed”, “Holy Money”,” The Burning World”, and “White Light from the Mouth of Infinity”.
Fans can expect more from the same palette on “The Glowing Man”, the final installment of a trifecta that began with “The Seer” (2012) and “To be Kind” (2014), except the Himalayan scale of the music is unfathomably daunting and / or dizzily panoramic, with several of the eight songs clocking in around or over the 20-minute mark. Those who dare to take the challenge are not so much lulled, but pummeled, kicking and screaming, into a trance-like state, after which they’ll white-knuckle through a gut-wrenching tour of Gira’s mental and emotional landscape, which easily spans both the sacred and the profane, The Biblical and the infernal – often several times within each song. It’s not an easy rollercoaster ride, but if you can handle the lows, its heights are transcendent.
Prepare to be pulverized.