After a hard-fought three-year writer’s block, Michael Gira thanks Jesus that he finally got some songs out. Since moving to the country and becoming a father, “It’s like hacking away at a rock cliff with a toothpick trying to get a song,” he says. Whether it’s the actual longhaired Bible star Gira owes thanks for his latest breakthrough, only he can say. And he doesn’t. But no matter who or what he winks at when things go his way, there is no question that My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, Gira’s first Swans release in 14 years, runs on real deal Holy Ghost power.
My Father was recorded in all-night sessions, cranking the volume in a concrete basement until “the overtones were just ringing like a church.” What better approach can be imagined for a believer who has run out of words than to abandon order and seek beauty in deliriously savage expression, thrashing and busting and speaking in tongues. “If you gave a sledgehammer to a televangelist,” he says, “[this is] the kind of music he would make.” But even at its most gruesome peaks, My Father isn’t about agony. “Being surrounded by so much sound is the most ecstasy I could ever imagine experiencing,” Gira says of the revived Swans’ recordings. “It was about trying to make these overwhelming, hallucinatory musical moments. Completely obliterating and revivifying at the same time.”
Gira’s Swans started out in 1982 as a carnivorous shock and awe campaign that sounded like slow-motion cage fighting. For beating Nine Inch Nails to the wicked industrial punch (and spiking it with cyanide), Swans earned major cult acclaim. But Gira tired of catering to the blood-thirsty, and dissolved the band in ’96 to take a softer, gothic folk tack as Angels Of Light. Well, sounds like he got tired of that too. Between the church bell clatter that announces My Father’s opener “No Words/No Thoughts,” and the tender prayer leading out of “Little Mouth,” stretches a nasty vertical landscape, humid with aggressive atmosphere. The intersection of heady religious zeal and bodily euphoria is the perfect home for Gira’s thought-dry condition, and the loud-first-lyrics-later Swans model is his ultimate vehicle. He has put the band back together, it seems, for a fix. When asked to name the violent new terrain he’s invented in the process, Gira is right on course. “Uh, well I guess it’s heaven.”
Stream: Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky