“Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures. With really ugly temperaments.” said Michael Gira, front man of American post-punk outfit Swans, in an interview. Thinking of it, he could not have chosen a better name, because Swans, the band, are exactly that. Their dark lyrics are beautiful creations inspired by the morbidity and despair caused by love and life, friendship and loss, which song by song get torn apart by the ‘ugly temperaments’ and hypnotic noise of their guitars and drums.
The first time I heard Swans must date back to about four years ago. I don’t know exactly when or how I was introduced, all I remember is being completely taken back by the minimalist brutality of their songs, which very much reminded me of German industrial bands of the 1980s.
Michael Gira (3rd from left), Jarboe (2nd from right) and Swans.Not many people have heard of Michael Gira or Swans before. This isn’t particularly a bad thing or something to feel guilty about. Swans were one of the most brutal bands to emerge from what was left of the New York No Wave movement, with dark songs about life and death, and everything else that would drain you from emotions and hope.
When listening to their first release ‘Filth’ or other albums such as ‘Children of God’ or ‘The Great Annihilator’ their musical origin and influences become very clear. Even though most songs follow the same hypnotic pattern; the diversity on their albums is striking. Gira’s brutal and aggressive vocals are accompanied by hypnotic repetition of pounding drums or guitar riffs in songs such as ‘New Mind’ or ‘Money is Flesh’, followed by almost the contrary; the distracting softness of singer Jarboe’s voice along the sound of a keyboard on tracks like ‘In My Garden’. While ‘Children of God’ reminds the listener of Einsturzende Neubauten or the early days of Lydia Lunch, ‘The Great Annihilator’ brings the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth to mind, bands which also took inspiration from the No Wave movement of the late Seventies and early Eighties.