The Swans - An Ectoplasmic Frieze

The Swans 

This post is about the death of a band, that is my favourite band of the last several years: The Swans. What can I say about this incarnation? I will leave such descriptions, etc for the links below; reviews, webpages, discogs etc follow this post. Suffice to say that the band was formed in 1982 by Michael Gira and disbanded after fifteen years, to rise, a decade later in their current incarnation featuring band members, Norman Westberg, Kristof Hahn, Phil Puleo, Christopher Pravdica and Thor Harris. Gira effectively wiped clean the slate, refusing to plug through 'old hits', or 'fans faves', instead they embarked upon a journey into uncharted musical realms. 

The Swans live and on record are completely different ventures. The shows often cross points of endurance, sometimes it feels like the band are punishing the crowd with grinding, unrelenting volleys of sound, crushing primal one-chord slams that jar the senses; seeing how far they can push the boundaries of musical tolerance before they slip back into comfortable ground... or plunge into a chaos of sound, a sort of noise jazz, or jism; wave upon wave, rising from the static rhythm, lifting, glowering, glowing, plunging down upon the audience like a depressive weight; a shroud, a burial chamber constructed of sonic megaliths. Then comes the shift, the mood dissipating, shifting, lifting once more. 

Swans gigs have never been easy listening. Why should they be? There's enough of that in the world. You don't go to dance to The Swans, you don't go there to tap your foot. You go to be absolved. You go to dissolve into the righteous noise. And by the gushing torrents of Christ's wounds, when the Swans move you then you're captured - it is with a religious abandon with which those lost in their muse move. Those that surrender their self-awareness.  For the entire gig audience and band are meshed, and the mortar is the tone between (and throughout) those sonic blocks. If this experience is akin to that of the religious, then yes, my experience of their shows is this. 

I wonder if the band are aware of the ritual they enact - this summoning of emotions, drawing forth these inner deamons (even Socrates had his inner daemon). Are they aware what they summon from each unknowable pool? What do they tease forth from the depths? Do they tap into some universal mind? Some collective conscious? Let's not kid around here, the Swans are magi  - not in the New age or Goth fantasy sense - I'm talking about the real thing here! Every show is/was a summoning, each track is/was an evocation... waves of noise coaxing forth the infinite.  

And now it is nearly  over. Two nights ago I saw them play Kino Šiška, in Ljubljana, this, their final tour.  A few months back Michael Gira issued  a statement on The Young God Records website announcing his intention to dissolve this incarnation of the band (Thor Harris was not present at the gig, moving onto other projects and being replaced by Paul Wallfisch). Effectively, though the Swans will surely continue to make records, the line-up will change and so will the sound. 

The band appeared much more relaxed than shows I recall several years ago in Glasgow and London, that on-stage tension seemed to have mellowed. Kristof Hahn even cast a few smiles at the youths pressed against the foot of the stage. That they were tired was evident, and no wonder, the band performed for two-and-a-half hours, and their final tour schedule is extensive and must be punishing. They are merciless; when they pound their instruments THEY POUND! At times Gira appears like a wounded Shamanic Christ figure, staggering under the weight of sound, mesmerised by the cacophony. 

Perhaps they took this incarnation of The Swans as far as they could go. Maybe the band feel that they reached the zenith of their cacophony. A momentous triumph  (those who 'get it' know this). Whatever - the Swans are dead, once again. They shall be missed by many. My one regret was not buying a t-shirt after the show and shaking Gira's hand (he usually mans the stall after each show), but I couldn't hear a damn thing save an intermittent static rush. 

Post Scriptum

I write this as a face in the crowd, and as a 'fan' I like to think that I get it, and I'm sure others feel this way too: that their music reaches beyond the confines of the song. That it infiltrates and moves around us - in ways we cannot express, that words limit; that only that particular sound in that particular moment can truly describe. 

I am a seeker, I do not Know, but as the sun falls beyond the edge and the last vestige of day leaves an adamantine stain, silhouettes of birds glide between wedges of solid colour. The darkness is alive with colour - and one thing of which I am certain is that this reality 'is' and 'it is now', endlessly shifting and it will remain long  after the Swans and I am gone. 

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