My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (Young God Records)
Michael Gira fans can be forgiven for being cautiously optimistic about the new Swans album. After all, he made it clear in no uncertain terms that he was done with the group, and for the past 13 years has been recording more easily digestible material under the Angels of Light name. On his label’s website, he even seems defensive about reviving Swans, and the appearance of several musicians who played in Angels of Light but not Swans on My Father further confuses things.
The only name that really matters is Gira. A casual fan might not be able to hear much difference between My Father and the last few Angels of Light records, but Gira doesn’t seem to have many causal fans. You’re either along with him on his trip or else his flat baritone and dark atmosphere can leave you cold. But he’s managed to make a record that sounds like both an extension of Angels of Light and a return to Swans. Opener “No Words/No Thoughts” is a classic blast of late-period Swans bombast, the folky “Reeling the Liars In” and “Little Mouth” are Angels-esque, and the repetitious rhythms and buzzing guitars of “My Birth” and “Eden Prison” recall early, primitive Swans. Following the popularity of noise as a genre in the last decade, the once-jarring assault of Swans has been tempered a bit, but the group was always about more than volume for volume’s sake. Gira believes in the cathartic powers of extreme sounds, but he knows that to have a deeper resonance they must be used to express something beyond anger and frustration. With My Father, he’s surrounded his confessional lyrics with a fittingly dramatic, emotive soundtrack, creating music with a depth both aggro noiseniks and wet-noodle anthemic indie rockers often lack.