Saturday, March 6, 2010

Swans - The Great Annihilator (1994)

| Experimental Rock | Industrial | Post-Punk |
| Dark Ambient | Post-Rock | Noise Rock |

Crawling out of the same noisy, arty New York underground that sired Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch, Swans created a dark, abrasive, murky, slowed-down noise rock that served as a starting point for their ruminations about alienation, depression, depravity, and the disturbing side of human nature. Singers Michael Gira and Jarboe have been the group's only constants over the years; Gira has taken the group from its early confrontational shock tactics to a more varied, mature attack. The band first appeared on record in 1982 with a self-titled EP, and these early releases document their search for the musical vocabulary to express their ideas effectively. Female singer Jarboe joined the group for 1986's Holy Money and brought a gentler, more relaxed dimension to Swans' sound. The band entered its creative peak with 1987's Children of God and the follow-up, Feel Good Now, and secured a deal with MCA through a cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which became an indie hit in the U.K. Their first MCA album, The Burning World, came the closest to mainstream rock of anything they had done up to that point, and 1991's White Light From the Mouth of Infinity continued that trend. Swans are highly regarded as one of the most influential bands from that time, anticipating the born of genres such as Post-Rock.

After a three-year break occasioned in part by wrangles with the Sky label, Swans returned in 1995 with a vengeance, as always pursuing their unique muse of dramatic, ever-more textured music. Gira and Jarboe work with a fantastic core band this time out, including returning veteran Westberg, who trades off guitar duties with Steele, at points playing together with him, a magnificent combination. Other returning musicians include Kizys and Parsons, while newer players like drummer Bill Rieflin from the Chicago Wax Trax! circle join as well. As is par for the course by now, Swans seem incapable of producing a bad album, Annihilator being crammed full of astonishing songs to prove it. Everything's a little more stripped-down here, possibly due to having a central band, but it's still all very lushly arranged and created, perfectly balancing force and restraint. Leadoff single "Celebrity Lifestyle" is one of the catchiest things the band has ever done, but it's still uniquely Swans -- a minimal, throbbing song matched with a sharp lyric on starlust and what it might mean. "I Am the Sun" pounds as hard as any early Swans track, but the use of careful space between blasts, Gira's heavily echoed, out-of-nowhere vocal (accentuated by equally vivid background vocals from Jarboe), and tempo shifts clearly demonstrates the constantly evolving nature of Swans music; the band is never content to simply repeat the past. Jarboe's own standout tracks include "Mother/Father," a brawling number showcasing both her and the band at their full-on best, and "My Buried Child," with her softly husked take on a terrifying Gira lyric, which is carried by a roiling rhythm. This is followed immediately by the sweeping, cinematic "Warm," where she contributes wordless vocals. Once again, Swans have created an epic, incredible work of art.

Catalog: YGCD 009 (Young God Records)
Album Overview at Allmusic
Download (192kbps)

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