The Glowing Man
[Young God; 2016]
Swan’s front-man Michael Gira understands what many other artists realize too late – in order to continue, you must constantly evolve. Over the past three decades, Gira has reinvented his vision multiple times. Once a pioneering band of the abrasive, no-wave movement, Swans would go on to soften their blows with a more melodic approach in the mid-80s, and then move to a somber, almost conventional stint on MCA Records. Between 1983 and 1996, Swans went through four different line-up changes, and currently, the band’s alumni features a list of 18 musicians. After a 14 year hiatus between 1996 and 2010, Gira emerged with his fifth line-up, returning with a sound more ambitious and potent than anything explored by the band before.
Following a string of critically acclaimed albums, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky, The Seer, and To Be Kind, Gira announced that 2016’s The Glowing Man would be the last effort from the band’s current, powerful line-up. Instead of going out with one last impactful bang, Glowing Man is a more cerebral listen than the past two efforts from the current incarnation of Swans. As a result, the album is a bit of a sleeper. Notes echo endlessly, guitars strum hypnotically, pianos twinkle randomly, and the drums rattle along at a lumbering pace. If The Seer and To Be Kind were albums of shock and awe, than Glowing Man is a measured meditation on how to deal with disappointment.
Three of the tracks on the eight-song album surpass the 20-minute mark, and Gira makes sure to draw out every second of these sprawling compositions. “Cloud of Unknowing” opens with three minutes of cacophonous ambiance; “Frankie M” uses up six minutes of swirling cymbals and dissonance before reaching the more straightforward heart of the song, and the title track challenges you with four minutes of a lone guitar strumming the same chord repetitively. The Glowing Man is not for the faint of heart – it challenges and allures the listener at the same time, the musical equivalent of Eve’s run-in with the serpent in Eden.
For those, like me, that have relished the outburst of material from Gira over the past six years, there is still enough moments of guttural squalor to go around. However, these signature Swans explosions are not as common, only used to add brief moments of release. Instead, the album plays like one final, exhausted gasp from a band line-up that achieved an unprecedented string of albums these past few years. Glowing Man is a perfect epilogue to the current iteration of Swans; let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 15 years to hear what unparalleled soundscapes Gira has fermenting in his glorious mind.