Album Review: Swans - 'leaving meaning.'

Swans indulge in absorbent experimental rock on their 15th album, but don't quite live up to the prestige of their earlier efforts.

Swans are a very difficult band to talk about. Few have a discography as massive and as varied as they do, spanning over 15 studio albums. 1983’s Filth was the band’s first release in the band’s tapestry of sounds, its primal and chaotic no wave sound soon made way for the more complex and finely arranged sounds that defined Swans’ post rock sound on 1996’s Soundtracks for the Blind; an absolute monolith of a record that marked the end of Swans until 2010 when Michael Gira revived the project. What followed was a critically acclaimed run of albums ending in 2016’s The Glowing Man. And now Swans are resurrected for a second time with their latest offering in leaving meaning. which has the difficult task of following up the band’s previous efforts.

Given the short hiatus since recent albums, it’s no surprise that musically Gira remains pretty close to the style of recent Swans records. The album draws from the standard canon of Swans instruments with plenty of acoustic guitar and beautiful vibraphone melodies. Furthermore, the staple Swans songwriting is featured; many of the songs have repetitive hypnotic riffs with linear song structures allowing the songs to organically build themselves itself up.

"leaving meaning. shows that Swans show no signs of stopping and will continue to produce excellent post rock for a long while yet."

And while Gira has been so masterful with these techniques in recent Swans efforts, some songs, like the title track or The Hanging Man, fail to build up with very unsatisfying climaxes and ultimately the songs feel boring to listen to. Other songs like Sunfucker and It’s Coming It’s Real execute this songwriting style excellently, however. Sunfucker features a much-welcomed return to their signature abrasive sound with screamed background vocals and a droning accordion. Gira’s intense vocal performance is peppered with gunshot snares until the song dissolves into pulsating synths before rising up into a marching groove. It’s just slightly disappointing that the album is halfway through before the songs step away from aimless meandering.

It’s Coming It’s Real features some beautiful haunting harmonies from Anna and Maria von Hausswolff and is easily the highlight of the album. The song feels closer to Gira’s side project Angels Of Light as it leans heavily on the gothic folk sound whilst still retaining the signature patient riffs and gorgeous use of vibraphone.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The second half of the album is where the best of Gira’s ideas are found. From the menacing groove on Some New Things to the disorientating layered vocals on My Phantom Lamb, this is exactly what fans are looking for in new Swans material. And while earlier tracks in the album failed to deliver, this run of songs more than makes up for the issues earlier in the record.

Whilst it perhaps fails to live up to the standards set by Swans’ recent hat-trick of albums, leaving meaning. shows that Swans show no signs of stopping and will continue to produce excellent post rock for a long while yet.