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Swans

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 identified with. These initial sides surfaced on the Body to Body, Job to Job compilation. A different lineup included Kane, guitarist Bob Pezzola, and Daniel Galli-Duani on saxophone; they released a self-titled EP in 1982. The personnel changed again for the band's powerful debut, Filth, issued in 1983 on Germany's Zensor imprint. It included Gira, Kane, guitarist Norman Westberg, bassist Harry Crosby, and percussionist/drummer Roli Mosimann.

Swans began to garner an audience in Europe. Kane left after Filth was released, and Swans, who were becoming known for their sheer musical brutality as well as Gira's lyrics about violence, extreme sex, power, rage, and the margins of human depravity (sometimes in the same song), began to garner a cult following at home with the release of 1984's Cop. The sound was essentially the same: extreme volume, slower than molasses tempos, detuned guitars, distorted electronics, and overamped drums and percussion, but there were discernible traces of something approaching melody in Gira's compositions and vocalizing. Further evidence of this new "accessibility" was heard on 1985's untitled EP, which featured the provocatively titled "Raping a Slave." It later became the EP's title. Swans' touring was relentless, and while anything even approaching popularity avoided them in the United States, their European audiences grew exponentially.

The band issued the EP Time Is Money (B**tard) and the full-length Greed at the beginning of 1986 and another album, Holy Money, and the A Screw EP later. Holy Money marked a real change in the band's sound, though its tactics were largely the same: the entrance into the band of two new influential presences: vocalist/keyboardist Jarboe and bassist Algis Kizys, who began, albeit subtly at first, to shift the band's attack into something less assaultive sonically yet no less jarring emotionally. Jarboe and Kizys would remain members of Swans until the group's extended hiatus began in 1997. Jarboe, who actually was a member of the band as early as Holy Money, would become a settled, foil-like presence for Gira as co-lead vocalist. Her presence signified the addition of a new set of dynamics and textures to the more brutal soundscapes the band put forth in its past. That said, when called upon to do so, she was no less primal or forceful than Gira as a singer.

In 1987 the band moved to Caroline Records and issued Children of God, a double album that marked the real transition between the two parts of the band’s sound. Gira openly embraced the softer aspects being added to Swans' sonic architecture. Further evidence is provided by the beginning of Gira and Jarboe’s new side project, Skin (World of Skin in the United States), whose first album, Blood, Women, Roses, on which Jarboe was featured on lead vocals, was released. A subsequent album, Shame, Humility, Revenge, with Gira on lead vocals, was also recorded at the same time, but released a year later. The German-only Swans set Real Love, a semi-official bootleg, was issued in 1987. Another double album, Feel Good Now, was issued by Rough Trade Records in 1988. Interestingly, despite Swans gaining attention for their own material (they regularly appeared in the pages of the British weeklies and each new release brought more laudatory ink) and even placing albums on the indie charts' lower rungs, it was ironically a single, a cover of Joy Division's immortal "Love Will Tear Us Apart," that climbed the independent charts in June, and nearly topped them.

Fantastically, Swans were offered -- and signed -- a contract with major label MCA Records. "Saved," their first single for the label, was almost mainstream, given the band’s roots. The subsequent album, The Burning World, produced by Bill Laswell, featured another cover; this one a gorgeous reading of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." The aggressive, savage brutality of the band’s earlier recorded sound had been almost entirely supplanted by a much more somber, elegiac, and acoustic approach to music-making, with lyrics sung (rather than shouted or screamed) in duet between Gira and Jarboe; Westberg played as much acoustic guitar as electric, Jarboe’s keyboards all but floated through the mix, and Kizys employed the upper ranges of his bass as never before. The record didn't sell enough to please MCA, however, and the band was dropped.

Live performances from Swans were another story. The group continued to play violent music at outrageous volumes that were punishing for audience members, and sometimes displayed shocking and provocative stage antics. Crowds only grew. With critical backlash mounting and the band faced with new listeners, Gira gambled -- or reacted, depending on whose point of view one listens to. Instead of following up The Burning World with another album, he formed his own label, Young God, and spent the next few years reissuing earlier Swans material. Gira and Jarboe issued their final World of Skin album, Ten Songs for Another World, in 1990, but Swans didn’t release another album until the stellar White Light from the Mouth of Infinity appeared in 1991. It was their most commercially viable yet adventurously experimental set to date, with a myriad of textures, dynamics, and sophisticated production techniques. Various forms of electronics were added to the other instruments, creating depth and dimension in the band’s sound. The band toured the album in front of its largest audiences. In 1992 Swans issued the full-length Love of Life and the live set Omniscience.

In 1993 Jarboe released her first solo project, Beautiful People Ltd., in collaboration with keyboardist Lary Seven, offering an entirely different side of her mysterious multi-octave vocal persona in Swans -- it was a collection of neo-psychedelic pop songs. Gira, meanwhile, wrote fiction in earnest, resulting in the publication of his first book, The Consumer and Other Stories, published by Henry Rollins' 2.13.61 Press in 1995. Swans also resurfaced with the lauded The Great Annihilator. Jarboe issued her second solo offering, Sacrificial Cake, and Gira released his first solo album, Drainland, to boot. After touring with all the new material, the band reconvened later in the year to begin recording Soundtracks for the Blind, which was issued by Young God in 1996. The band did a final tour before Gira announced in early 1997 that Swans were finished. He began a new recording project that focused on his songwriting called the Angels of Light, and continued running Young God, a label that became an innovative force in independent music. Jarboe pursued a successful solo career, often employing former members of Swans as well as collaborating with artists including Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Jesu's Justin Broadrick, to name just two of the dozens. Gira also continued writing and publishing fiction.

In 2009, news surfaced via the Young God home page that Gira might reconvene Swans for a set of songs he had written. In early 2010 the words "SWANS ARE NOT DEAD" appeared on his MySpace page. The new version of the band consisted of former as well as new members including guitarists Westberg and Christoph Hahn, drummer/percussionist Phil Puleo and drummer Thor Harris, and bassist Chris Pravdica. The band recorded the album My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, which was released in September of 2010 on Young God. The live album We Rose from Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head followed in 2012. In August of that year, Swans released the sprawling double album The Seer, an album that Gira claimed was 30 years in the making. Gira and his collaborators were hardly short on ideas by this point, and in 2014 they released another double album, To Be Kind, which featured guest vocals from St. Vincent. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

Love love lOve!*
I absolutely adore Swans and Angels of Light! Excellent musicians and Michael Gira's voice is just stunning and haunting <3
I see it all...do you?
ferdyplatz
the National as a simlar artist? echo & the bunnymen??? C'mon Pandora!
anth6
saw their death and rebirth live---songs for the blind and rope.. .one of rock's great underappreci a t e d ; BUT MY GOD ARE THEY A BUNCH OF ARROGANT FUKS! Just try and have cs few unscripted words with them (Gira/Jarbow / W e s r t e r b e r g ) Go ahead; let us know how delightful it was....
The most painfully beautiful, terroristic tones to ever crush the eardrums and musical virginity of the uninitiated. The older hurt physically, but the later crushes your soul.
Did you ever consider that your brain and personality is bland and boring because this song is not. Your a tone deaf troublemaker that can't even use Pandora properly. What a schmuck
Teej, I do have a life. We all have differing musical tastes and sometimes it appears that there is a flaw in the algorithims that Pandora uses to pick tracks. They put bands that in my opinion suck and annoy me on my station and I give them a thumbs down. I didn't find Swans, they found me. My stations are bland and whitebread ?
Hahahaha that's a good one.
This band changed my life! Filth was the first thing I ever heard by them and, at the time, I had never heard anything like it. Been hooked ever since. They also got me into Jarboe. I love her as well.
this band is an aqwird taste
/\
spelled that wrong
Bobonnit, I've been seeing your comments on a lot of artist profiles and you really need to get a life. If you're going to call yourself a critic, you have to do more than write 'get these losers offa my Pandora on every artist that doesn't appeal to your narrow musical taste. Believe it or not, Pandora wasn't made exclusively for you. How did you even find a great band like Swans on here anyways? I can't imagine them coming up on either of your two bland, white-bread stations.
I hate this depressing and droll sound. What's up with that ? Get offa my Pandora losers
I only like some of Swans but they're an example of why I ditched regular radio and went online. No turning back.
I always felt like everything up to their 3 or so most recent albums had too much repetition
soundtracks is indeed excellent, but the seer is even better. sonically is fascinating and it encapsulates its own cohesive universe and its own logic.
soundtracks for the blind will always be one of the greatest releases of all time
You know how everyone says that anybody that heard the Velvet Undergrounds ' first record in '67 ran out and started a band...that' s what happened to me when I first heard the Filth album. Brilliant.
why are we alive in my living room now
Oh poor Jon Mayhue...The Burning World was not just a bunch of 60's covers. One song is and that's Can't Find My Way Home - 4:48 by Steve Winwood. The rest of the songs are all of original Swans construction , produced by Bill Laswell and it's just a great album...if you can find it, go get it.
A long forgotten unique band that never got their due.Type O Negative should've taken them on a few tours as an opening act.
sbholl84
New album is pretty good. Buy it if you can, maybe Gira will be convinced to make another if it does well.
remember when they were scary when i saw them at first ave.-prince' s nightclub in minneapolis before they became folk rock...
Thank you, Thom Jurek for a respectable bio. Also, Holy ess word! Swans are effin back!!
Steve Huey apparently hasn't the energy for research. M. Gira was in Circus Mort in 1976, disbanded after one album. Swans appeared in 1979. The Burning World was an album with 60's rock covers and originals. Their discography ends in 1998 with Swans Are Dead, the live album version of their last studio album, Soundtrack For The Blind(which has amazing electronic experimentat i o n adding yet another layer to their constantly evolving wall of sound).
hunter gaga lady jhlkdfkgjldk j g k l d f j g k l d f j g d k l f g j l d f j l k d f g j d k l f g k l d f g k j d f k l g j d k l f g j d l k f g j k d l f g j k f d l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l l k g j d k l g j d f k l g k l j d f k l j g j k d f k g k j d f k l g d k l f j g k d l f g k d f j k g d k f j l g j d k l f g j d k l f g k j d k h j f h j d s r e j f j r j u y e u . j d f d h h f d s h j h f j d h j s / d j h f d h j s f j d s j k f h d j s k h f d k j s h f k j d s h f j s d j f h j d s j k h f d h j s j f j h d k s k h f j d s k j k j h f s d h j k f h j s d h j h f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f f
hi
sbholl84
The ultimate feel good band. Just happy tunes from happy folks.
looove em!!!!
One of the greatest bands to never make it, though they made incredible music for 15 years and so F'N glad to hear they are back together again. I hope it sticks. Only seen them 3 or 4 times, but they awe inspiring. Gira's Angels of Light are good, most of it. Buy it!
I first heard Swans in 1989. They opened my ears up to experiencing difficult music. Without them, I would've remained an aural illiterate.
juicymsberry
Swans shape the way I despise society.
You Know Nothing....Y o u Know Everything
Are neither "The Great Annihilator" nor "Soundtracks for the Blind" available on Pandora?
the "similar artists" listed above were bands...and great ones at that...the Swans were much, much more...if you never experienced them, you can not understand. If you are this far, however, your mouth would have been open half the time
That All Music Guide write-up is so vastly inaccurate and incomplete. Swans early music was like no other, and they kept that rhythmic brutality even as they layered more melodic parts over it in later recordings. Steve Huey, whoever he is, did a s**tty job.
don't overLook swaNs contribution to
totaL SLUdge and dooM MetaL.
i hate the song 'voLcano'
on soundtracks for the bLind.
just surprisingLy awfuL.

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