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My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope To the Sky

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Album Review

After Michael Gira disbanded the brutal, beautiful Swans in 1997, he did anything but go quietly into the mists of avant rock legend. He ran his label Young God, wrote and published fiction, formed and cut half a dozen albums with Angels of Light, and produced and released recordings by numerous acts, including the first offerings by Devendra Banhart. Gira reconvened the Swans project for My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, eight songs that pick up in part where 1997's Soundtracks for the Blind left off, while remaining firmly in the present with the influence of Angels of Light and his solo records in the mix. This edition of Swans contains various former members, including guitarists Norman Westberg and Christoph Hahn, drummers Phil Puleo (who played with Swans and Angels of Light) and Thor Harris (ex of the Angels), and bassist Chris Pravdica. Guests include Banhart, Bill Rieflin (who also guested with a previous edition of Swans), and Mercury Rev's Grasshopper. The chimes that introduce the nine-and-a-half-minute opener, "No Words/No Thoughts," give way to martial, massive no wave guitars and pummeling kick drums and tom-toms. Gira begins his powerfully incantatory roar as the track shapes and twists, rumbling and thundering. Likewise, "My Birth" contains Swans' hypnotic, punishing — if more refined — repetition with a sawing dulcimer added in the high end for more tension. Gira's lyrics are still concerned with the extremities of human experience as they encounter the blind light of the divine and the bottomless heart of darkness. There is great power in this music; it points at the margins of violence, but never quite gets there ("Eden Prison," with Gira's vocals amid a swirling mass of in-the-red instrumentation and tribal drumming, is a solid example). "Jim" is the dead cross where late-era Swans and Angels of Light intersect. There are other places here, such as "Reeling the Liars In," where Gira performs solo on acoustic guitar, or on the closer "Little Mouth," where the meld of acoustic and electric instruments as well as chant-like multi-voice choruses create an even wider depth of field. In classic Swans confrontational mode, "You F*****g People Make Me Sick" features Banhart and Gira's young daughter singing "I love you/Young flower/Now give me/What is mine” to one another tenderly, before industrial sounds, textures, and hammering percussion rain down on the listener; it's jarring, disturbing. All this serves to underscore that My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky is a mercilessly intense and beautiful record that only Swans could pull off, and that no matter who plays in the band, Gira was and is Swans: their sound, their musical and poetic vision, their heartbeat.


Formed: 1982 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '10s

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...
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