ARTIST: SWANS + ALBUM: THE GLOWING MAN + LABEL: YOUNG GOD RECORDS + RELEASED: JUN 17, 2016
After the Pixies reunited in 2004, dozens of other 80s-90s era bands have come together for nostalgia tours and, for some, new albums. Most of these reunions have fallen into the category of arguable cash grabs and very few have resulted in an expansion of that bands previous work into new artistic territory. Michael Gira’s Swans fall into the latter category. Spawned from New York’s No Wave scene of the early 1980s, over the next 15-some-odd years the Swans made music critics would call post-punk, industrial, art-rock, and experimental. Resuscitated in 2010, Michael Gira made no attempt to revisit the past. Rather, Gira’s reformed Swans have made some of the best music of their career. Critics have raved over the Swans recent output and The Glowing Man should be no exception. Believing that this current incarnation of the band has accomplished its mission, The Glowing Man marks their final album. Gira will continue under the Swans moniker, but this is the final recording from the lineup who produced the excellent albums My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010), The Seer (2012), and To Be Kind (2014).
Settle in for Glowing Man, its eight songs span nearly two hours and the majority of the tracks are 20 minutes or longer. But, Swans aren’t for easy listening or head banging. In a perfect world they’d be appreciated by the symphony-going crowd. At best, they must at least be appreciated by the high-brow types who are into Scott Walker’s recent output (anything released in the 2000s). The Glowing Man has the precision and sound of a band who has done three previous albums together and toured ubiquitously in support. In fact, about half of the album was developed on the road, the other half developed in the studio.
Having knowledge of the previous three albums, there’s nothing especially surprising about The Glowing Man. Like those previous albums, the songs here share a similar scope of vision. Songs teeter between delicate and destructive. Whether songs are 5 minutes or 25 minutes, they all sound like broad, cinematic post-rock symphonies. The songs “Cloud of Forgetting” and “Cloud of Unknowing” are slow-building, meditative tracks that wander into experimental, noise-pastiche territory with the sensitivity of a sledge hammer. “The World Looks Red / The World Looks Black” is a hypnotic track built on piano, noise, a looping bass line, and chanted vocals; that, like the others, builds from quiet to loud in a slow wave of anticipation. In terms of cinematic presentations, “People Like Us” sounds like the soundtrack to an old western movie, while “Frankie M” would fit better in a sci-fi film. “People Like Us” is almost Animals-era sounding Floyd, while “Frankie M” is an exercise in tension. The title track is a particularly impressive effort. Best described as a cacophony of instruments or the sound of a box of cutlery thrown down a stair case.
Not unlike their past three albums, The Glowing Man is a monstrous, mysterious work of art that cannot be described as easily. Which is exactly what makes Swans and this album so special in the first place. The Swans have never been a band you recommend casually at dinner parties. The Swans are a band you mention to someone you expect is hip to this particular realm of art. This album won’t change that. However, this is an excellent piece of art that should be appreciated on a much larger scale. What the Swans have accomplished since 2010 is an astonishing achievement for any band at stage of their career. The Glowing Man should be required listening for anyone who is bored with the unchallenging, homogenous nature of todays popular music.
– J. Kevin Lynch