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Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

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Artist: Swans

Album: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Label: Young God

Review date: Sep. 20, 2010

This is it. This is the ultimate M. Gira record.

A brief overview: Michael Gira is the colorfully damaged, enviably fearless guy who started an earlier incarnation of Swans in the boiler room of early ‘80s New York, as a monotonous, relentlessly negative… “industrial” doesn’t really work here. Think slo-mo brutality in 2/4, with no real stake in society at large. Over time, particularly when he brought in the ultra-girly drama-club influence of singer Jarboe, Swans became something much more complex. Along with Gira’s scary cult-leader charisma and the grinding, sadistic rhythm section, albums such as Love of Life, White Light From the Mouth of Infinity and The Burning World (a simplified, Cohen-biting bid for college radio airplay that’s weathered surprisingly well) brought in symphonic complexity and moments of gorgeous emotional depth. Catharsis via extreme contrast.

More recently, Gira’s records as Angels of Light (with or without Akron/Family, which, let it be known, is a completely different band when Gira is in the room) have mined American folk music, with often transcendent, sometimes disappointingly “mature” results.

It’s always a bitch to write about a musician who writes about his own music so obsessively and entertainingly. (David Thomas is another one of those.) In his effusive mailing-list updates, MG has made it clear that this is “not a reunion.” K. But I’ll observe that My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky distills everything Gira has ever done. It’s a shockingly dense record, the Gira experience in 45 minutes or less. All killer, no filler, for real.

We enter the maelstrom (if you don’t smirk when you read the word “maelstrom,” Swans may not be your thing) with “No Words/No Thoughts,” a rhythmically erratic, epically overblown dirge clocking in at nine minutes and challenging King Crimson in the extremist prog-rock sweepstakes. Then we get “Reeling the Liars In,” fleeting and elegantly understated in Gira’s Burroughs-as-bluesman persona. “Jim” and “My Birth” finally, after many years, effectively merge the two concepts, making this a Swans record that could only exist after Angels of Light. And do not miss the centerpiece, “You Fucking People Make Me Sick,” which brings together Gira’s glaring misanthropy, an astounding depth, courage and complexity vis-à-vis the arrangement, and a cameo from the leader’s three year old. “Eden Prison” then does the angry, balls-to-the-wall apocalypse thing again. I would say this is the best Gira record for beginners, but I can also picture it being exhausting. At times, things get so intense, it’s hard not to laugh.

Band reunions never make good on their promises, but this record certainly does.

By Emerson Dameron

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