A Beginner’s Guide To… Swans
Daniel Cadwallader tells you everything you need to know about the legendary New York Noise band
Who They Are
Formed from the same New York No Wave' scene that gave us Sonic Youth and Unsane, Swans are an experimental noise rock act, fronted by mercurial genius Michael Gira. The band has had a revolving line-up over the years (Gira is the only consistent member) and their sound has taken in everything from primitive grind, folk, proto-industrial, drone and psychedelica. Best known for a run of epic albums, featuring keyboardist/vocalist Jarboe, in the late eighties and early nineties they have continued to create new sonic landscapes on every record. The band (who re-emerged in 2009) currently consists purely of Gira and over its 29 year career has released 17 albums.
Why You Should Love Them
Swans are a truly unique band. Forged in the fires of post-punk they changed the face of music and redefined what beauty could be within noise. This sounds a bit overblown, but the scope of their work is phenomenal. Michael Gira is possibly America’s answer to Nick Cave, his brooding lyrics touching on everything from politics, spirituality, love and death, and has been a elusive (and occasionally controversial) figure in music since the band first emerged. It’s this single mindedness and uncompromising attitude that has seen the bands legacy last, with acts as diverse as Napalm death and Grimes citing Gira as an influence. Their latest album 'The Seer' proves they have lost none of their bite as Gira heads towards his sixties. It’s a sprawling two disk affair that puts them firmly at head of the pack yet again.
Their Best Album
While there are many jewels in the bands crown, for us the brightest is 1987’s 'Children of God'. What you’d call mid-period Swans, it marked the time when Gira was working closest with Jarboe, and Children of God bears the fruits of their partnership. A mix of grinding Birthday Party style noise, lilting folk, delicate post-punk and industrial 'Sturm und Drang', it is the album that defines them and features some of their strongest songs. For those who have never experienced the band before (and they are an experience) this is the place to get your first hit.
Our Top Five Tracks
Children of God
In My Garden
Love Will Tear us Apart (Joy Division Cover)
The Seer Returns