Today the final Aetix posting on 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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At the time, being the first of the many semi-official bootlegs and live releases that Swans put out over the years, Feel documents the 1987 European tour for Children of God, recorded quite well on a professional walkman by the band's sound engineer. The track list exclusively focuses on Children material, so the album has much of the same general variety as its parent release, though all of the edges are a little rougher. "Blood and Honey," for example, maintains the synth-string arrangements from the album as well as Jarboe's low, haunting vocals, but the louder instrumental breaks have a stronger power here. In the meantime, already overpowering songs like "New Mind" and "Beautiful Child" rage all that much harder in a live arena, with Gira holding little back, if at all. At the same time, a tune like "Trust Me" maintains the newer Gira's commanding-yet-controlled croon amidst the more textured, elegant arrangement, though he definitely starts to let himself go more towards the end. Naming every highlight would take nearly forever, but special mention has to be made of "Children of God," featuring a fantastic call-and-response vocal tradeoff between Jarboe and Gira while the band brilliantly backs them up, and versions of "Sex God Sex" and especially "Blind Love," which make the album versions seem like gentle walks in the park by comparison. Another definite bonus on Feel is the demonstration of Swans' hitherto hard-to-find sense of humor: "Willy in Ravensburg" is a recording of a PA tape of Willie Nelson with drunken audience response, while a number of tracks near the end document a variety of performance goofs and improvisations, including some muffled but amusing audience banter at points.
Swans - Feel good now (flac 490mb)
01 Intro 0:38
02 New Mind 5:28
03 Blood And Honey 7:11
04 Trust Me 4:55
05 Willy In Ravensburg 1:00
06 Sex God Sex 9:47
07 Various Audience Tricks 0:55
08 Like A Drug 8:32
09 Beautiful Child 5:43
10 Blackmail 4:23
11 Children Of God 6:38
12 Beautiful Reprise - The Town And Country Backstab Cowardice 2:32
13 Thank You 0:54
14 Various Audience Members 1:29
15 Hello To Our Friends 18:36
16 Blind Love 0:22
17 Thank You, Good Bye. Good Luck. 0:11
Swans - Feel good now (ogg 183mb)
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Swans' first major-label record, for Uni/MCA, turned out to be their last, and Gira especially has been bitter about the experience ever since; his commentary about the album often involves his anger over Uni's insistence on having noted New York musician Bill Laswell oversee the recording sessions (Gira himself states that he enjoys Laswell's work in general, and thinks Burning was a case where agreement over how best to work together simply wasn't there). Ultimately Burning sounds more like a compromised major label Laswell project than a Swans album, to its overall detriment. To be sure, Gira's complex, increasingly mythic and mystical lyrical images still retain their power, while his singing and Jarboe's still each have their own, often gripping appeal. However, Westberg's playing, whether by choice or by Laswell's direction, is more functional than striking at this point; in a more troubling move, Kizys and Parsons are completely absent (the latter joined Prong around this time), replaced by Laswell himself and session players. A number of regular Laswell partners like Nicky Skopelitis also assist throughout the album, providing a lot in the way of multicultural instrumentation that doesn't amount to much in terms of being interesting. Above all, little stands out as being distinctively Swans, being more slightly moody acoustic "world music" rock with electric shadings that is ultimately quite anonymous, lacking much of the dramatic power which informs Swans at their best, loud or soft. To be sure, there are some tracks of note: a Jarboe-sung version of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" has a gentle appeal, while "(She's A) Universal Emptiness" and "Jane Mary (Cry One Tear)" have their moments as well. Those aside, though, Burning is an otherwise general disappointment, mostly making fans thankful that the band rebounded as well as they did.
Swans - The Burning World (flac 261mb)
01 The River That Runs With Love Won't Run Dry 4:14
02 Let It Come Down 4:28
03 Can't Find My Way Home 4:48
04 Mona Lisa, Mother Earth 4:16
05 (She's A) Universal Emptiness 4:02
06 Saved 4:11
07 I Remember Who You Are 4:23
08 Jane Mary, Cry One Tear 3:51
09 See No More 5:30
10 God Damn The Sun 4:20
Swans - The Burning World (ogg 119mb)
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Given the label troubles which rendered much of Swans' late-'80s/early-'90s work out-of-print all too quickly -- Gira's comments on MCA and Sky Records since that period have never been less than utterly scathing -- this particular entry in the late-'90s reissue series was one of the most eagerly awaited releases by fans, though not without controversy. Rather than completely reissuing everything -- Burning World, White Light, Love of Life, the World of Skin album Ten Songs From Another World, plus numerous singles and the live Omniscience -- Gira compiled and fully remastered a broad-ranging (and as has often been the case with these reissues, non-chronologically ordered), two-disc distillation of what he considered to be the best moments of the period. (In many cases he selected alternate or unreleased takes, some notably better than the more familiar versions, as with Burning World's "God Damn the Sun," one of only two tracks taken from that troubled album; Omniscience itself is not featured at all on this collection.) There was some griping from Swan's fan base over this, but the fact is Gira's instincts were spot on; Failures pulls together all of the fantastic, often unappreciated highs from these years, resulting in something arguably better than all of the original releases put together. The band's spectral, mysterious, folk-influenced side (such as "Failure" and the World of Skin's take on Nick Drake's "Black-Eyed Dog") and the epic, film soundtrack-sounding side ("Better Than You," "The Golden Boy...") are both featured in full force, as are the many side explorations and combinations of the same. As a further welcome bonus, just about every B-side from the singles of those years appears here, including such wonders as Gira's take on "Song for Dead Time" and the acoustic version of "New Mind," along with Jarboe's truly fascinating take on "Love Will Tear Us Apart."
Swans - Various Failures (88-92) 1 (flac 455mb)
01 Miracle Of Love 6:25
02 Black Eyed Dog 3:59
03 The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By The Sea 5:09
04 Untitled 2:07
05 I Remember Who You Are 4:24
06 Her 5:23
07 No Cruel Angel 4:28
08 When She Breathes 4:31
09 Why Are We Alive?6:05
10 The Child's Right 3:35
11 Untitled 1:03
12 The Other Side Of The World 4:29
13 Song For Dead Time (M. Gira Version) 4:34
14 Love Will Save You 6:05
15 Blind 4:31
16 Unfortunate Lie (Instrumental Version) 2:20
17 Was He Ever Alive? 6:25
Swans - Various Failures (88-92) 1 (ogg 184mb)
Swans - Various Failures (88-92) 2 (flac 465mb)
Red CD 78:02
01 Failure 6:19
02 Identity 5:35
03 Can't Find My Way Home 4:48
04 Trust Me 4:19
05 Better Than You 5:58
06 Love Will Tear Us Apart (Jarboe Version) 3:44
07 Will We Survive? 5:56
08 Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes 1:17
09 God Damn The Sun 4:21
10 Eyes Of Nature 4:40
11 You Know Everything 4:26
12 Song For Dead Time (Jarboe Version) 4:59
13 Picture Of Maryanne 4:22
14 Amnesia 3:42
15 Dream Dream 5:32
16 Please Remember Me 4:48
17 New Mind (Acoustic) 3:26
Swans - Various Failures (88-92) 2 (ogg 191mb)
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