Today again the American experimental rock band originally active from 1982 to 1997, led by singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira. The band was one of the few groups to emerge from the early 1980s New York no wave scene and stay intact into the next decade. Formed by Gira in 1982, they employed a shifting lineup of musicians until their dissolution in 1997. Besides Gira, the only other constant members were keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Jarboe from 1984 to 1997, and semi-constant guitarist Norman Westberg. The band became known for its experimental instrumentation and repetitive song structures. In 2010 Gira reformed the band although without Jarboe.....N'Joy
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Swans were born during the heyday of New York's no wave reaction to punk rock, on the Lower East Side. Led by brainchild, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Michael Gira, the group was formed after the demise of his first New York outfit, Circus Mort. Swans' first lineup consisted of Gira, guitarist Sue Hanel, and drummer Jonathan Kane. The trio played with kindred spirits Sonic Youth and did some rudimentary recordings that showcased the abrasive, percussively assaultive sonics Swans were later identified with. These initial sides surfaced on the Body to Body, Job to Job compilation. A different lineup included Kane, guitarist Bob Pezzola, and Daniel Galli-Duani on saxophone; they released a self-titled EP in 1982. The personnel changed again for the band's powerful debut, Filth, issued in 1983 on Germany's Zensor imprint. It included Gira, Kane, guitarist Norman Westberg, bassist Harry Crosby, and percussionist/drummer Roli Mosimann.
Swans began to garner an audience in Europe. Kane left after Filth was released, and Swans, who were becoming known for their sheer musical brutality as well as Gira's lyrics about violence, extreme sex, power, rage, and the margins of human depravity (sometimes in the same song), began to garner a cult following at home with the release of 1984's Cop. The sound was essentially the same: extreme volume, slower than molasses tempos, detuned guitars, distorted electronics, and overamped drums and percussion, but there were discernible traces of something approaching melody in Gira's compositions and vocalizing. Further evidence of this new "accessibility" was heard on 1985's untitled EP, which featured the provocatively titled "Raping a Slave." It later became the EP's title. Swans' touring was relentless, and while anything even approaching popularity avoided them in the United States, their European audiences grew exponentially.
The band issued the EP Time Is Money (Bastard) and the full-length Greed at the beginning of 1986 and another album, Holy Money, and the A Screw EP later. Holy Money marked a real change in the band's sound, though its tactics were largely the same: the entrance into the band of two new influential presences: vocalist/keyboardist Jarboe and bassist Algis Kizys, who began, albeit subtly at first, to shift the band's attack into something less assaultive sonically yet no less jarring emotionally. Jarboe and Kizys would remain members of Swans until the group's extended hiatus began in 1997. Jarboe, who actually was a member of the band as early as Holy Money, would become a settled, foil-like presence for Gira as co-lead vocalist. Her presence signified the addition of a new set of dynamics and textures to the more brutal soundscapes the band put forth in its past. That said, when called upon to do so, she was no less primal or forceful than Gira as a singer.
In 1987 the band moved to Caroline Records and issued Children of God, a double album that marked the real transition between the two parts of the band’s sound. Gira openly embraced the softer aspects being added to Swans' sonic architecture. Further evidence is provided by the beginning of Gira and Jarboe’s new side project, Skin (World of Skin in the United States), whose first album, Blood, Women, Roses, on which Jarboe was featured on lead vocals, was released. A subsequent album, Shame, Humility, Revenge, with Gira on lead vocals, was also recorded at the same time, but released a year later. The German-only Swans set Real Love, a semi-official bootleg, was issued in 1987. Another double album, Feel Good Now, was issued by Rough Trade Records in 1988. Interestingly, despite Swans gaining attention for their own material (they regularly appeared in the pages of the British weeklies and each new release brought more laudatory ink) and even placing albums on the indie charts' lower rungs, it was ironically a single, a cover of Joy Division's immortal "Love Will Tear Us Apart," that climbed the independent charts in June, and nearly topped them.
Fantastically, Swans were offered -- and signed -- a contract with major label MCA Records. "Saved," their first single for the label, was almost mainstream, given the band’s roots. The subsequent album, The Burning World, produced by Bill Laswell, featured another cover; this one a gorgeous reading of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." The aggressive, savage brutality of the band’s earlier recorded sound had been almost entirely supplanted by a much more somber, elegiac, and acoustic approach to music-making, with lyrics sung (rather than shouted or screamed) in duet between Gira and Jarboe; Westberg played as much acoustic guitar as electric, Jarboe’s keyboards all but floated through the mix, and Kizys employed the upper ranges of his bass as never before. The record didn't sell enough to please MCA, however, and the band was dropped.
Live performances from Swans were another story. The group continued to play violent music at outrageous volumes that were punishing for audience members, and sometimes displayed shocking and provocative stage antics. Crowds only grew. With critical backlash mounting and the band faced with new listeners, Gira gambled -- or reacted, depending on whose point of view one listens to. Instead of following up The Burning World with another album, he formed his own label, Young God, and spent the next few years reissuing earlier Swans material. Gira and Jarboe issued their final World of Skin album, Ten Songs for Another World, in 1990, but Swans didn’t release another album until the stellar White Light from the Mouth of Infinity appeared in 1991. It was their most commercially viable yet adventurously experimental set to date, with a myriad of textures, dynamics, and sophisticated production techniques. Various forms of electronics were added to the other instruments, creating depth and dimension in the band’s sound. The band toured the album in front of its largest audiences. In 1992 Swans issued the full-length Love of Life and the live set Omniscience.
In 1993 Jarboe released her first solo project, Beautiful People Ltd., in collaboration with keyboardist Lary Seven, offering an entirely different side of her mysterious multi-octave vocal persona in Swans -- it was a collection of neo-psychedelic pop songs. Gira, meanwhile, wrote fiction in earnest, resulting in the publication of his first book, The Consumer and Other Stories, published by Henry Rollins' 2.13.61 Press in 1995. Swans also resurfaced with the lauded The Great Annihilator. Jarboe issued her second solo offering, Sacrificial Cake, and Gira released his first solo album, Drainland, to boot. After touring with all the new material, the band reconvened later in the year to begin recording Soundtracks for the Blind, which was issued by Young God in 1996. The band did a final tour before Gira announced in early 1997 that Swans were finished. He began a new recording project that focused on his songwriting called the Angels of Light, and continued running Young God, a label that became an innovative force in independent music. Jarboe pursued a successful solo career, often employing former members of Swans as well as collaborating with artists including Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Jesu's Justin Broadrick, to name just two of the dozens. Gira also continued writing and publishing fiction.
In 2009, news surfaced via the Young God home page that Gira might reconvene Swans for a set of songs he had written. In early 2010 the words "SWANS ARE NOT DEAD" appeared on his MySpace page. The new version of the band consisted of former as well as new members including guitarists Westberg and Christoph Hahn, drummer/percussionist Phil Puleo and drummer Thor Harris, and bassist Chris Pravdica. The band recorded the album My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, which was released in September of 2010 on Young God. The live album We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head followed in 2012. In August of that year, Swans released the sprawling double album The Seer, an album that Gira claimed was 30 years in the making. Gira and his collaborators were hardly short on ideas by this point, and in 2014 they released another double album, To Be Kind, which featured guest vocals from St. Vincent.
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In a doom-laden, bass-heavy start, Public... opens with "Money Is Flesh" rumbling to life in the nearest equivalent to Chinese water torture that loud rock has ever achieved; when Gira starts his tremendous ranting almost five minutes in, the effect only gets that much more intense. This long out-of-print semi-official bootleg, given a formal re-release in 1999, succeeds admirably at its goal of capturing live Swans in excelsis as avatars of destruction, corruption, and domination. Recorded at a series of English dates in support of Holy Money, Public... covers tracks from both that album and Greed, plus a stomping, almost ritualistic version of "A Screw" where things get all that much more vicious by the second, especially when the introduction of huge amounts of echo and background feedback kicks in, leading to Gira's final anguished roars of "Holy! Holy!" again and again. The strong band lineup at this point was Gira, Jarboe, Westberg with his wrenching guitar work, Kizys on equally extreme bass, and two drummers, Gonzalez and Parsons, all working together brilliantly to blast the unique Swans vision of music and life into probably utterly unsuspecting (and apparently at times stunned-silent) audiences. Tracks which came across as a touch more subtle on record, aim for the extreme here. For example, while "Fool," here in its piano and guitar version from Greed, still mostly consists of just that, Gira's vocals are even more wracked than before. Gonzalez and Parsons' brutal drum work continues its overwhelming feel from track to track, almost making the disc sound like separate movements of one very dark modern symphony indeed. While it's hard to pick out any one moment where everything is at its peak, the conclusion of "A Hanging" -- all percussion and Gira's echoed, wordless shouts -- sticks for a very long time in the memory. In all, a truly mesmerizing, powerful release.
Swans - Public Castration Is A Good Idea (flac 451mb)
01 Money Is Flesh 12:07
02 Fool 8:08
03 A Screw 7:27
04 Anything For You 9:09
05 Coward 8:34
06 A Hanging 12:32
07 Stupid Child 5:41
08 Another You 10:16
Swans - Public Castration Is A Good Idea (ogg 172mb)
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Kicking off with "New Mind" -- which, while having the same general pace of most earlier Swans songs, also sounds distinctly different with its clearer, inventive arrangement, call-and-response vocals, and Gira's declamatory but not screamed lead vocal -- Children of God finds the band making their own particular great leap forward. The simmering changes that were apparent in the albums just before this one's release fully come to the fore, as Swans take the courage to explore both their huge-sounding, bombastic side and gentle, if often still disturbing, delicacy (due credit especially to Westberg, Kizys, and Parsons, possibly the best musical lineup Swans ever had until the final years). The results are fascinating, ranging from the spare piano melting into ambient feedback of "In My Garden" and the twisted gospel blues of "Our Love Lies" to the acoustic guitar and organ on "You're Not Real, Girl" and the raging pounder "Beautiful Child." Equally importantly, if not more so, Jarboe now assumes a full role with Gira as co-leader of the band; while all lyrics are still Gira's, the two share lead vocal duties (though aside from the title track, no duets) throughout the album. The weary, evocative croon which Gira developed into his major vocal trademark here emerges to full effect (though he can still roar with the best of them at points) while Jarboe's cool, rich tones are simply astounding, as evidenced on an even more compelling version of "Blackmail," originally from the A Screw EP. Though Children is dedicated without any apparent irony to Jesus Christ, Gira's words remain as irreverent, challenging, and obsessed with overarching issues of religion, power, sex, love, and control as before, but with an ever-increasing depth and beauty to match the lusher musical textures. With flute, oboe, and strings adding further texturing to the often quite lovely songs created by the band, Children remains perhaps the key album of Swans' career -- the clear signpost towards their ever-more ambitious albums in the future.
Swans - Children Of God (flac 435mb)
01 New Mind 5:13
02 In My Garden 5:34
03 Our Love Lies 5:50
04 Sex, God, Sex 6:49
05 Blood And Honey 4:46
06 Like A Drug (Sha La La La) 5:35
07 You're Not Real, Girl 4:21
08 Beautiful Child 5:16
09 Blackmail 3:33
10 Trust Me 4:58
11 Real Love 6:20
12 Blind Love 7:44
13 Children Of God 4:22
14 Damn You To Hell / I'll Swallow You 4:16
Swans - Children Of God (ogg 167mb)
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This compilation collects the contents of the only two Skin albums on the market up to that point -- Blood, Women, Roses and Shame, Humility, Revenge -- offering them for release in the U.S., as neither had appeared in the States until then. The collection drops two songs from the Blood album and mixes the contents of the two records together indiscriminately, thus removing the effect of having the first album be totally Jarboe-sung and the second sung by Gira. As a joint release, though, perhaps World of Skin is all the better for it, allowing the tradeoff between the singers to be that more keenly felt; certainly there is no real difference in the evocative, haunting music, given that all of the tracks were recorded in the same three-month session. The album transmits hypnotic and scary atmosphere, there is addictive melancholic feeling which accompanies the whole album, Jarboe and Michael Gira extraordinary voices connects perfectly with the experimental synthesizers sounds and to the dark folk with the deep feel of western Horror movies atmosphere. Created especially for US release, distributed by Rough Trade (US).
Swans - The World Of Skin (flac 382mb)
01 1000 Years 4:10
02 Everything At Once 4:30
03 Cry Me A River 4:46
04 Breathing Water 4:20
05 Blood On Your Hands 4:01
06 Intro/Nothing Without You 5:53
07 We'll Fall Apart 4:40
08 I Want To Be Your Dog 3:36
09 My Own Hands 4:53
10 Turned To Stone 5:17
11 Cold Bed 2:29
12 24 Hours 4:11
13 Red Rose 4:26
14 A Small Sacrifice 6:40
15 Still A Child 5:20
16 The Center Of Your Hearts 4:44
Swans - The World Of Skin (ogg 155mb)
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