The Door is Open: 10 Songs from the World of SWANS by Nick Soulsby

I was kindly invited by Kevin, the creative mind behind the Void Report (great title which I really need to ask how he came up with!), to try to suggest ten songs that go some way toward capturing the wide span of styles and approach that exist within the entity known as Swans.

It’s quite a task. One of the finest things about Swans is that they’re a band that didn’t just record the same album, or variations of it, over and over again. It was never possible to say “this is what Swans sound like” for more than a couple years – then the sound would shift almost entirely. Better still, many bands, making a stylistic shift, simply wind up sounding like a pastiche or a tribute to styles that others do better: SWANS never did that. Swans always sounded like their own thing – an original.

I always think of Swans as a number of phases: 1982-1987 the gargantuan audience pulverizing era; 1988-1989 Americana years before Americana was back in fashion; 1990-1993 the age of rhythm married to articulate lyrics and layered orchestral detail; 1994-1995 return to rock; 1995-1997 the jettisoning of rock and the invention/ushering in of what would come to be the post-rock era; 2010-2011 the wedding of Angels Of Light to Swans; 2012-2016 the creation of a new hybrid of minimalist composition, pop/rock song-craft and maximalist impact.

So, what did I attempt to pick? What I aimed for was to find ten songs that summed up some central aspect of each of those times – a song that acted as a doorway to each spell before the wheel turned again.

I think the advice stays true: if you don’t like your first taste of Swans, just move two albums down the line and try again – you’ll find a new band that is still, without doubt, Swans.

I also want to thank whichever genius came up with the ‘how to get into Swans’ graphic – it’s a work of art.

 

 

Advertisements

http://freq.org.uk/reviews/nick-soulsby-swans-sacrifice-and-transcendence/

I loved this review by David Solomons because I love writing that means I learn something. That opening quotation from GK Chesterton is amazing: a perfect encapsulation for the need to change and vary something if it is to remain fresh and retain the qualities one sees in it.

I also like the fact that it contains new stories, that there’s stuff I hadn’t heard – watching the whole of Dune and half of Eraserhead projected on screen at Mean Fiddler before the Swans show – that’s great stuff!

 

 

swans online

https://www.facebook.com/events/246106332915884/

What better way to spend a Sunday evening than sipping a beer and talking the wild life and times of SWANS? On the 21st, at Rough Trade Bristol, we’re going to be getting together to show exclusive clips from Marco Porsia’s upcoming film on Swans ‘Where Does A Body Begin?’, read unreleased material from ‘SWANS: Sacrifice And Transcendence – The Oral History’, talk SWANS…Basically it’s the all-SWANS night.

The link above to the event, it’s free, the bar at Rough Trade is pretty darn good, their performance space is neat…Should be a fun night.

What I’ve enjoyed about these so far is hearing people tell their tales about how they came to connect with Swans – again and again there’s been something more than just ‘bought the music’, it’s been about meeting Gira or Jarboe, receiving mail from them, hearing the band in an eighties venue, working to set the gigs up, so many different connections…

Naturally,I’ll be signing copies of the book toward the end. Feel free to bring your copy along – or, sure, buy one from me on the night. I like signing things! I’m friendly! šŸ™‚

 

Alt-Classic

I’m hugely looking forward to this. My three all-time favourite albums, the ur-text of my tastes, are Nirvana In Utero, Sonic Youth A Thousand Leaves and Swans Soundtracks For The Blind. There’s something about the teenage moment that can never be reproduced when it comes to impact.

On Sunday 23rd, at the Shacklewell Arms (see below for website/location) I’m in attendance to hear theĀ  entire 140 minutes of pure genius that is Swans Soundtracks For The BlindĀ over a cheerful pint or two. I admit I’m curious to consume it over the sound system at the venue, to see if it helps me peel back a few layers and find something my own stereo doesn’t quite get to. With an album I’ve lived with for some two decades it’s a moment like this where I can hear with fresh ears, step outside of my usual distracted home state and into a room where this is the core of my attention, stand in a place where I’m not bothered about thrashing the neighbours with sound and really absorb it. I’m looking forward to going to the opposite end of the spectrum from the private headphones in the dark experience.

https://www.shacklewellarms.com/info

This is part of an ongoing, and deeply wicked, series run by Michael Brooks bringing together those who love an album, those who are just curious, those who fancy a (free!) night out on a Sunday with good music and a touch of bonhomie.

Why Soundtracks For The Blind? In my view it’s still Swans finest hour – and I say that in spite of my admiration for the past four albums. This was 1996, building dense layers of ambient sound in studio was still in its infancy, and there’s a physicality to the process Michael Gira and Chris Griffin had to go through to realise these results. Post-rock, in the form of bands like Mogwai or Godspeed, hadn’t quite taken off yet, so this kind of widescreen, orchestral approach to sound – something way beyond jam-band noodling – was near new. The source materials elide the entirety of Swans history into one album, most overtly in the form of Jarboe’s take on ‘Your Property’, but also in the use of aging tape loops, outtake material, the new set being played by the 1995 era band as laid to tape in a west coast studio at the close of the U.S. leg of the tour for The Great Annihilator. To this day, I think Swans is the only band to work successfully at a double CD scale: this is a coherent album experience, something requiring a journey rather these gross ‘album as compilation to be self-curated and deleted’ releases that seem to fill a lot of chart time to an increasing degree.

https://www.shacklewellarms.com/events/2018-09-23-swans-soundtracks-for-the-blind-listening-session-the-shacklewell-arms

I’ve agreed to introduce the album, provide reading from the book to contextualise its creation, to locate it in time and space…before we’re all sucked into its all-consuming maw of sound where we’ll dwell for just over two hours. Weightless, fleshless, devoid of physical form – at the mercy of pure experience. Wonderful.

https://blank-slate-creative.com/2018/09/swans-sacrifice-and-transcendence-book-release/

Was rather gratified to see this go up today! Part of being a writer is not just ‘writing stuff’, it’s trying to make sure that people even know the words are there. Sure, no writer wants to be a marketing person too – which is ultimately what this spell of a book entails – but there’s still fun to be had.

For a start, the individuals working in music and arts journalism are passionate: there’s little money to be had in the field so these are people who do it because they love it. It’s a genuinely energising intervention in a day to receive responses from people who have much to say about music, who feel your work might offer something to them and to their audiences, who believe in what you have done or are doing.

Personally, I also enjoy what I call ‘the hunt’. When I’m preparing a book a lot of what I do is track people down – find ways to get in touch with them. It’s precisely the same process with the media. Which outlets are out there? Who would be best to speak to? How could you contact that person? How do you make sure they know you have thought about them, that you’re aware of their work, that you’re not just spamming them?

https://luminousdash.com/boek-swans-en-michael-gira/

Very kindly, the crew at Luminous Dash in Belgium also shared the press release piece. Press releases, I try very hard because I want them to have some energy and excitement to them…But they’re also generic in some ways – it’s a balancing act. I’m delighted when people broadcast the press release. The next stages up are book reviews, then there are interviews about the book, extracts from the book, the video piece PopMatters permitted was a new innovation for me, then articles/other content surrounding the book – one magazine has asked me to do a ‘my worst records ever’ piece!

 

I was invited, by Pop Matters to contribute a video excerpt from Sacrifice & Transcendence so, at the Moth Club book launch last month, we took over the ex-servicemen’s committee meeting room upstairs (complete with darts board, trophies and portrait of Winston Churchill – well it is the ‘Winston Churchill Bar’ after all) and I gave it a shot.

Decided to tackle the early days of the Swans Are Dead tour in 1996, a fraught time but one that – I think – shows the perfectionism, the pressure, the frustration, the striving for excellence that went with that moment in time for Gira and the other members of that line-up of Swans.

https://www.popmatters.com/nick-soulsby-swans-reading-2591807163.html

Review_1

Was delighted to see this review in the July issue of Record Collector magazine.