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Album Review
My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
by Swans

Young God

Review Date
23rd November 2010
Reviewed by
Paul Gallagher

I am so glad that for once there's a band that's reformed that I can give a damn about. You know, it's kind of difficult to talk about Swans without ever really focusing on it as part of the course of history. But in saying that, their rise was not something that I experienced firsthand. Holy Money for instance was released on the year of my birth, with the much-famed Children of God coming out just a year later. I have, however, been lucky enough to have grown up around smatterings of good music from all eras and all corners. Swans is by definition no holds barred doom metal spliced drone music - not exactly positive or encouraging, but moving, tactile, textural, real. Full of dark, black humour, ribald wit and blatant posturing, Swans will forever hold a place in modern music as the height of melodrama.

My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky has been something I've had my eyes on for a while since I heard Michael Gira (also Angels of Light, and behind Young God records) would be relaunching the Swans project. But even still, it slipped below the radar in many ways and has surprised me upon listens over the last few weeks, as being something that came out of the blue - at exactly the right time. It's difficult to find a context or a necessity for Swans sometimes - this ain't party music, it's introverted for those who want it, and if you have a contemplative moment you need to spend time negotiating then why not listen to one of the more progressively interesting projects of the last forty years?

This is by no means just a cosmetic reformation for Michael Gira - here are many of the old gang to join him in the Lazarus-esque effort to bring life back to Swans. While there is no sign of Jarboe (who herself has a recent solo release on Twilight Records, Alchemic), Norman Westberg returns to support Gira in his vision. But pop sensibilities also play a major role in this new album. It may come as a surprise for some that Grasshopper - a member of Mercury Rev - appears throughout, not to mention Bill Rieflin who other than Swans has also worked as a member of Nine Inch Nails and currently drums for none other than REM. Also featured is Devendra Banhart, though that's not as surprising considering his long history with Gira's Young God Records and associated acts like Akron / Family.  Thor Harris is also recruited, the long-standing member of Shearwater and collaborator with Gira on Angels of Light as well as Devendra, Bill Callahan and Lisa Germano almost acting to bridge any gaps between session musicians and recording artists involved to smooth the waters for the Swans project to take hold. 

What of the songs? Well, as you might imagine, there's a fair component of bleak reminiscence - on tracks such as You Fucking People Make Me Sick for instance there's a sneering judgement-heavy element, with the words 'Obsessions, pink children, they are laid out in a line, they are screaming, they are polluting, they are demanding their life.' It's rhetoric only softened by Banhart's presence. You have to wonder if Gira's brought this project back to life simply to express his disappointment at what the world's done in the thirteen years since Swans Are Dead (1998, Young God). There's new energy, too, as with Reeling the Liars In - with Gira obviously out for blood, in his own vision of modern justice.


This is very much an American record - as the influence of Brian Carpenter from Beat Circus clearly shows - in its ethos and direction and even its target. It's aimed squarely at the American psyche, something that Swans has always done. It sits, not errantly, within a geo-political space not to attack but to lurk with a conscious presence.  But it's also accessible to all who may want to hear it. Sure, it's not fashionable and it's sometimes wholly contrived but as a person I respect told me recently, what good music isn't? An essential release for the annals of 2010. 


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