This is the sound of the apocalypse. The album opens with the tolling of bells, leading us into the eye of the storm, with an onslaught of guitars and drums heralding the end times. No Words/No Thoughts roars with a dark nihilistic energy. I love it.
Swans were a new band for me when I bought this in 2010 after listening to a late night BBC 6Music programme where the album was played and discussed. They’ve been knocking around since the early 80s, but at that point the group had been disbanded since 1997 and this was their first music since, with Michael Gira taking full control of the reins.
I believe this kind of music is often called ‘noise rock’, a most ridiculous genre name, since all rock music is noise. Dammit, all music is noise! But it does have that heavy industrial feel of waves of guitars, pounding drums, a lyrical focus on the extremities of human experience, all instilled with a kind of cathartic violence.
After the opener, the second track Reeling the Liars In feels somewhat out of place, with Gira performing a strange twisted folk song accompanied just with acoustic guitar. Jim is a kind of fucked up country gospel song, about a friend of Gira’s. (His fascinating blow-by-blow account of each track is available on wonderful The Quietus.)
You Fucking People Make Me Sick is one of the highlights, other than it’s in-yer-face title, it builds wonderfully to a deep affecting crescendo, then brilliantly undercut by the innocence of Gira and his daughter singing to each other “I love you, young flower, now give me, what is mine”. Devandra Banhart also features on this track, his unique voice intertwining brilliantly with Gira’s.
My Birth is a punishing song, with heavy hypnotic pulses of droning guitar swirling around you, it’s the closest we get on this album to that definition of ‘noise rock’. Eden Prison is in a similar vein, like Nick Cave in Grinderman mode with extra distortion. Little Mouth is a perfect closer, ending the album not with a bang, but with a whimper, where the tumult of instruments gradually disintegrate and fall away leaving only Gira’s solo voice.
Michael Gira’s gravelly baritone comes across at times like a world-weary Tom Waits, and sometimes with the passionate preacher-man rhetoric of Nick Cave. Either way, welcome to the sound of the new messiah.
p.s. Shout out to the fantastic artwork used for this album, from Beatrice Pediconi
Best Bits: You Fucking People Make Me Sick
Genre: Punk Rock Prog
Like This, Try This: Enjoying the bittersweet sensation of banging your head repeatedly against the wall whilst eating Haribo’s Starmix