Thursday, August 31, 2023

SWANS “The Beggar" & US Tour: Sept 2 - Oct 1

After two rescheduled tours due to the extenuated factors of the global pandemic, Michael Gira returns in September with another new iteration of his towering rock band, SWANS. Having led the outfit through numerous manifestations over the decades since its inception, including a brief phase as the folk ensemble The Angels of Light, change and transfiguration have been one of their great constants of Michael Gira's lifelong music endeavor. The cartography of this four decades-spanning terrain was mapped for Exclaim in Dimitri Nasrallah's "Michael Gira: from SWANS Uncompromising Sound to Ethereal Angels of Light", and in greater detail and intimacy by friends, fellow musicians and peers in Nick Soulsby's recently published oral history of the band, "SWANS: Sacrifice and Transcendence". At the end of their previous incarnation, with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial ascension and physical bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic magnitude. The post-reform precision and (relative) brevity of 2010's "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", the more variegated and nuanced "The Seer", the extended forays heard on "To Be Kind", and rapturous hypnoticism of 2016's "The Glowing Man" ascend to, and even expand upon similarly Homeric heights. "Michael Gira on ‘Dangling Off the Edge of a Cliff’ for SWANS Epic Final Album" for The Observer maps the musical trajectory's Oroborous-like path back to itself, as SWANS of the 21st Century has birthed a supreme amalgam from its own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their 40-plus year trajectory. From brutalist no wave minimalism, to musique concrete and extended tonal and drone compositions, to electric rock, psychedelia, blues, folk and Americana. The Guardian's John Doran postulates how it came to pass that SWANS produced the best work of their career so far. Where so many other bands of a similar vintage have retread familiar ground, revisiting the formula of past successes, Gira and company chose to instead stake everything on a fresh roll of the dice. They took a genuine gamble on creating new art rather than trying to recapture past glories and in doing so, they conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever".

The albums and live performances of this past decade, spanning 2010-2018, were the fruit of an extended, ever-evolving recording process. "A Little Drop of Blood: Michael Gira of SWANS Interviewed" for The Quietus describes the often arduous writing, rehearsal, touring and recording in a dynamic creative systole and diastole. The undertaking of then translating these recorded works to a marathon live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of 2014, "Michael Gira Talks about How SWANS Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the explicitly spiritual, transcendental nature of their live incarnation, "This is My Sermon: Michael Gira of SWANS Speaks". 2018 was to see another of these metamorphosis for the band, as Gira took a second brief hiatus to reconfigure SWANS. Issuing a statement through his Young God Records site, the author and musician has established this period as an interstice between iterations of his dominant musical project. SWANS last return and reformation after a 15 year hiatus, in which they became remanifest in the most powerful and expansive iteration to date, there was no doubt that their return after this much more brief hiatus would be one of renewal, reinvention, and creative metempsychosis. So here we are again, with this newest formation, following on the hypnotic and repetitive krautock-inspired grooves of 2019's "Leaving Meaning.", in which Gira enlisted Australian avant-jazz luminaries, The Necks, organist Anna von Hausswolff, and Icelandic electronics sculptor, Ben Frost, to enhance their tapestries of sound. The tour for that album was disrupted and eventually cancelled altogether, with Gira releasing a statement about the next work in progress and the fruitful recording sessions held in Germany. The album that came from those sessions, "The Beggar" would finally be taken on tour, and enlisted many individuals from the band's previous lineups, including; longtime percussionists Larry Mullins and Phil Puleo, Angels of Light bassist and keyboardist Dana Schechter, Ben Frost again in a more prominent role as "sound manipulator", and mainstays of the band's 21st century incarnation, Kristof Hahn and Christopher Pravdica. Of the sonic topography found on this "Dark and Unsettling, Purifying and Beautiful" album, Gira has said that "My vision changes according to the unfolding of random events found in the music that we play together", and as with each release before it, "SWANS Just Keep Swimming" towards some unknown and distant horizon.