As Swans founder and frontman Michael Gira earlier this year announced the impending retirement of his longstanding project’s current lineup, tomorrow night’s show at Vancouver’s Venue is the last chance to catch his stunning ensemble at the apex of its current journey in musical transcendence.
With that in mind, we offer a brief primer in Gira’s/Swans’ discography (and rejoice that an extensive back catalogue of several key records by Gira and other acts on his Young God Records label is now available via Bandcamp; Lisa Germano’s “In the Maybe World” remains a personal favourite.) Both Drainland and The Great Annihilator were recently remastered and reissued and serve as an informative counterpoint to last year’s release, The Glowing Man.
Drainland (1994) feels like an interlude, a whispered promise that was later made good with New Mother, the first release from Gira’s Swans-hiatus project, Angels of Light. Although both solo records highlight the enigma of our nature as violent beings sheathed in painfully vulnerable physical bodies (from the AoL song “Praise Your Name”: “I praise the scars on your body / and I praise your black-mirrored eyes”), where New Mother is refined, Drainland is a raw offering that saw Gira approaching his professional nadir while Swans deteriorated (the band’s hiatus was announced in 1997.) Best exemplified by the haunting confessional, “You See Through Me”, Drainland strays from the more bombastic moments typical of Swans to explore more varied and personal emotional territory, and is considered a companion album to Swans’ The Great Annihilator.
Swans has always been equally at home in filth as in filigree, never shying away from the brutal aspects of our animal nature and ever shining a light on the grace of consciousness’s ability to transcend every material discomfort or physical indignity to which a body can be subjected. Arguably The Great Annihilator (1995) is a simple record by comparison to later offerings and clearly a well-regarded, accessible fan favourite. Whether listening to “I Am the Sun” or “Celebrity Lifestyle”, one hears the grander Swans sound more familiar on subsequent records begin to creep forward in the mix. Notable highlights include the ferocious “Mother Father”, and the bonus live version of “I Am the Sun”.
Having followed Gira’s output as both a musician and head of his own label for many years, the release of Swans most recent recording The Glowing Man (2016) seemed both familiar and groundbreaking. Capturing the essence of Swans’ sound as a live ensemble since its reformation in 2010, the album is a sprawling, monumental work of sonic transcendence that is as brutal as it is graceful.
For reference, listen to centerpiece “Frankie M”, which begins as a high-voweled elegy or invocation and ultimately leads to ecstatic auditory euphoria: