In a sentence:
Michael Gira’s latest iteration of Swans is rather similar to that which gave us three consecutive masterpieces, but ‘Leaving Meaning.’ isn’t quite as revelatory.
Michael Gira announced a couple of years ago that he was dissolving the line-up of Swans that had delivered
three thematically and sonically linked masterpieces in a row throughout the
2010s, many new and established fans of the band would have wondered where he
was going to take his life-long project next. That triptych of albums – 2012’s The Seer, 2014’s To Be Kind and 2016’s The Glowing Man – had been characterised by
cinematic, ruthlessly economical and incredibly long rock that sat
somewhere between no-wave, black metal and post-punk, so it was hard to imagine
Gira travelling further down that path.
REVIEW: Swans @ LUU Stylus
A cursory glance
at Leaving Meaning., however, suggests that Gira has merely tinkered
with the chemistry of Swans rather than overhauled it. Although he’s worked
with constantly shifting group of session musicians picked with a unique
feeling for each song in mind, as opposed to a fixed line-up, much of it sounds
familiar. With a dozen songs clocking in at a hefty 93 minutes – slim compared
to their last three records though it is – he’s clearly not lost his penchant
for lengthy epics, with four of the tracks breaching the 10-minute mark. What
has subtly changed, though, is the emphasis and tone of the music: mournful and
delicate in many places, where its predecessors were heart-swallowingly epic.
misty, slow-moving ambience of the brief, two-minute opener ‘Hums’, the austere
‘Annaline’ offers to set the tone for Leaving Meaning.
– Gira’s clear, time-worn baritone coming on like a drawled, even sadder
version of Matt Berninger’s vocals. But it’s something of a red herring for the
main body of the record, with ‘The Hanging Man’ establishing the same kind of hypnotic and unbroken tension as Swans’
last three albums – a taut, repeated figure complete with gibbering,
incantatory vocals. The closing ‘My Phantom Limb’ is the most disquieting of
the bunch, an overload of grueling no-wave decorated with over-lapping
spoken-word sections disorientating the listener.
The solemn ‘Leaving Meaning’, with its ringing piano figure, is similarly structured (if somewhat
more ambient) to recent epics like ‘Screen Shot’, and is the clear highlight of
the album. The wide-eyed ‘It’s Coming It’s Real’ seems to have proselytising feel to
it, but in a positive manner, a new demeanour for Michael Gira’s typical work. Less
successful is the horror soundtrack-esque ‘Sunfucker’,
beginning with its quasi-tribalistic chanting and ululating from Gira and a
backing choir, but mutating halfway into something disappointingly mundane.
‘The Nub’, apart from some ghostly effects, passes without incident.
that, though, Leaving Meaning. does let us at least glimpse a different
side of Swans on a few occasions, albeit a more melodic one that revisits the
likes of The Burning World, the group’s solitary major-label
release from a whopping 30 years ago which split fans and commercially
under-performed. ‘Cathedrals Of
Heaven’ is like a folk song rendered through drone rock. Even ‘Leaving
Meaning’ retains a sort of soft accessibility, despite its repetitive and
lengthy structure. The gentle and delicate brace of tracks ‘Amnesia’
and ‘What Is This?’ are gaseous, all-enveloping atmospheres that serves as a
break from what came before.
long Michael Gira will continue with his latest method of creating Swans
material isn’t clear, but on the evidence of Leaving Meaning., it’s not
as consistently successful as what he’s delivered in years gone by. (6/10)
Listen to Leaving Meaning. by Swans here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: Leaving Meaning, Michael Gira, Mute, Swans, Young God
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