As noted a couple of weeks ago, I’m going to see Swans this coming Friday. I’ve been a fan since about 1988, when they covered Love Will Tear Us Apart. The following year’s major label release, The Burning World was much in the same vein. Lyrically intense, well-produced (Bill Laswell at the helm, not too long after PiL’s Album), acoustic rock which the members have long since disowned. I also listened to the predecessor of those releases, Children of God, which is almost as relentless as their even earlier work in terms of guitar and percussion, but shows a growth towards some kind of pop.

Following The Burning World, Swans’ frontman and mainstay Michael Gira started his own record label, Young God, on which he released four more Swans studio albums and two live collections before calling quits on Swans. He released several albums under the moniker Angels of Light (mostly beautifully intense acoustic work quite reminiscent of The Burning World – in fact on the first Angels of Light tour, he played that album’s God Damn the Sun for an encore), as well as solo work and work by artists he respected, the most successful being Devendra Banhart.

About five years ago Gira had a well-documented revelation about the work he could produce as Swans. He called in guitarist Norm Westberg (whose association with Swans goes almost back to 1983 and who has played on all Swans recordings from the debut album Filth, save for Love of Life) and Phil Puleo (an absolutely fearsome drummer who was in the final touring version of Swans in 1997 and the initial incarnations of Angels of Light), and three other musicians who had been in on various Gira projects. Percussionist Thor Harris had been in Angels of Light, bassist Christopher Pravdica came from outside the band (having previously played with Gunga Gin among other acts) and guitarist Christoph Hahn whose internet presence is minimal to say the least. The first studio album of the reinvigorated Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Stars was a single-disc, relatively (for Swans) straightforward affair. The subsequent studio recordings, The Seer and this year’s To Be Kind (released on Mute outside of North America – their first major-ish label release since ’89) push two hours each with multiple 20+ minute tracks. And each is a step up on the last. This septet has been constant for these most recent records and tours. Having seen Swans twice in the 90s, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see them three times (in three countries!) since their rebirth (and one fantastic solo Gira show earlier this year).

I haven’t written anything here about the music. The history is easy to find and doesn’t really help matters any. Gira’s interviews help more, and they’ve been more forthright and interesting, and far less confrontational, recently than they ever were in the 80s and 90s. The experience of the music (preferably live, and at least on a good stereo, though to be honest most music I listen to these days is on sub-par at best earbuds or headphones) is the key. The playlist up at the top is a good start. If you can hold your concentration, I recommend holding on through the nine minutes of No Words/No Thoughts as a good intro. My current favourite work of theirs are the tours de force, like Apostate and Bring the Sun.