Monday, May 16, 2011

Album Review: Swans - "Swans" (1982)


So... Well... Here's the first Swans EP. The band who is now known as an innovator in industrial, goth and post-rock music, began life here sounding very similar to its brethren in the New York no-wave scene, such as Sonic Youth and Mars (Thurston Moore was even a guitarist for our Swans at one point early in their lifespan). The main difference here is that there's a more industrial edge to it than most of them... If you want a basic description of how the whole thing sounds, imagine Sonic Youth mixed with Throbbing Gristle, and the bass turned up. Quite amusing here how Michael Gira's voice is fairly high and similar to Thurston Moore's, very much opposite to his gravelly bellows on later material.

For sure, this gives me a great picture of a desperate, strung-out, disenfranchised subculture in pre-Giuliani New York, wandering dark and dangerous streets, navigating filthy alleys, walking through dank apartment buildings looking for their next hit or client or fuck. Voices from all directions, downright evil electronics, disturbed chanted lyrics, sinister thumping basslines, sampled saxophones that make a sound like you just came up snake-eyes, and scraping metallic sheets of guitar noise. Total tension... Absolute heavy atmosphere.

Of the four tracks here, they're all quite good but I think my favorite would probably be "Sensitive Skin". It sounds like a horror film, there's no other way to describe it... Other than maybe like Slint gone evil. But beyond that, it actually anticipates the post-rock stuff the band would be doing years from this point. The rest of the EP has an almost traditional punk rock sound in places, just with some weird post-punk flourishes.

It's a shame that Michael Gira appears to have no love for this EP; outside of being appended to a 1990 reissue of their album Filth, there's no CD release of it - including on the more recent reissues of Filth, which puts some demos instead and has long replaced the 'old' reissue, making that one difficult to find. Unless it was just gossip, I also heard that Gira sold the master tapes to this album on eBay recently, presumably to fund My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. That's a lucky fan... It's weird, this EP doesn't get discussed much among fans but it's one of my favorite Swans releases. It just has a really interesting sound, and just because it's more traditional doesn't mean it's not as intense and atmospheric as any of their later stuff.


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