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.