I came to Swans late, only really cottoning on to them with 1991's 'White Light From The Mouth of Infinity'. From that moment though I was hooked, with that album and 2017's 'The Glowing Man' being amongst my favourite all time albums, but its impossible to set any of the Swans fifteen albums to date against another as each is both distinctive and distinctly brilliant. I also grabbed hold of Swan's core member Jarboe's parallel act Skin and it was a close run thing between those two for a while, depending on my mood, but Swans won out. After far too long a gap, with the last album being 2019's 'Leaving Meaning', they are back (or should we say 'him' ? as Michael Gira IS Swans, lets face it) with a frankly stunning new double album 'The Beggar'. A few selected tracks have already been released to act as teasers, but as I said in my review of the track 'Los Angeles City Of Death', Swans are an album band and demand to be listened to as such. That experience is well worth the effort as right from the deeply atmospheric opener 'The Parasite, with its hypnotic Murder Ballad-y narrative vocals, swiftly followed by the mantra like 'Paradise Is Mine' with the repeated refrains "Am I ready to die? Is there really a mind?", I am drawn in and the Swans once again start to burrow under my skin to gently grip my soul and squeeze. Describing the process of recording this album coming out of the pandemic lockdown, Gira reflects "When I finally was able to travel, songs in hand, to Berlin to work with my friends recording this record, the feeling was akin to the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the film changes from Black and White to Color". Listening to Swans for the first time after experiencing lesser music was very much like that for me and I'm certain will be for you too.
Like a master chef, Gira has collected together a set of collaborators for 'The Beggar', including some past Swans members, who each add their own set of flavours, yet complement each other and the album overall perfectly. Each track is unique and distinct yet forms a continuous whole, from the spine tingling opener, through the almost joyous track 'Michael Is Done', the sublimely epic and wonderfully intense pulsing atmospherics of the 10 minute long title track, to the closing pugilistic lament 'The Memorious' (which actually left me with a huge sense of loss that the album was over). It's a truly masterful excavation of the deepest recesses of the soul in the way only Swans can do, with Gira's gravelly voice measured, yet impassioned, and each word delivered without the need to scream, which lesser talents routinely employ as a substitute for expressing feeling and exposing dark emotions. Only vintage Nick Cave comes close (there even being a tenuous link via sometime Bad Seeds drummer Larry Mullins, who is one of Gira's collaborators here) but with the big, big, difference that Swans still remain as vital as ever and continue to develop and evolve with every album. I honestly don't know how Gira keeps doing this for sixteen albums over 40 years and yet I still find something new in every note. a twist at every turn, and fresh ideas and inspiration running through each track like blood. You need to treat 'The Beggar' with due respect. Set aside uninterrupted time at dusk as the light is dying to sit down and listen to this from start to finish in one sitting. I guarantee you will not look back. 'The Beggar' may very well be my favourite Swans album so far. Until the next one.
The Beggar is released in all formats on 23 June
Main Image Michael Gira by nriko