I would have liked to have finished this review and posted it up far sooner. But come on, man. Binging a freaking two-hour long slab of experimental rock takes it out of you. But better late than never, eh?
If you know anything about the more experimental sides of rock music from the 80’s onwards, then Swans should be a band you know, or at very least should be a name that you are aware of. After more than a decade on hiatus after their 1996 album Soundtracks For The Blind, Swans made their return in 2010 and since 2012, they have been religiously releasing a two-hour long record once every other year and The Glowing Man is the final part of this monolithic trilogy. Over their thirty-plus year career, they have dabbled in just about every sound in experimental music, from post-punk to drone, noise rock, industrial, neofolk, you name it, and since their return, they have been releasing some of their most dynamic, diverse and exciting music to date, showing their determination to push their own limits as musicians and push the boundaries of music. The Seer (2012) and To Be Kind (2014) marked a new chapter for the band and were greeted with an extremely positive critical reception and I’m pleased to announce that The Glowing Man, in my humble opinion, is easily one of the strongest albums in this recent trilogy, sounding distinctively quirky and indulgent as ever, but with a greater ambient focus making this one of their most atmospheric and cerebral albums to date. Apologies in advance if what follows is a fanboy gush of hyperactive hysterics but this is a phenomenal album and a worthy swan song (pun fully intended) to mark the end of their current line-up.
As with their previous two albums, the band draw out motifs and jam on lengthy improvisations live while recording, constantly adding in accents and flares to build up tension in incremental stages. Although this often results in some very long songs, each of the albums in this trilogy featuring a thirty-minute song, The Glowing Man is one of their more immediately accessible albums in this latter portion of their discography. The opening track Cloud Of Forgetting sets the hazy tone of the album and kicks things off with reverb laden guitar layers, sparse drums and delicate piano to ease the listener into the following two hours of music, creating an instant hypnotic haze.
This is emphasised by front man Michael Gira‘s vocals, as his drawn out delivery borders on reverential and sits comfortably in the eccentric camp, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you have heard their previous two albums (with such memorable lines as ‘space cunt’ and ‘your name is fuck!’ on Apostate and She Loves Us respectively). On top of this a lot of the lyrics on these tracks feature more abstract and disjointed fragments which are tied together loosely by overarching themes rather than cohesive narratives, which helps aid the often dreamy and hypnotic music. It’s as if you were listening to a series of mantras with a post rock musical backing, and the combined effort is enthralling.
This atmosphere is carried over onto the following track Cloud Of Unknowing, with additional instrumentation being piled into the mix including some wailing, playful pipes that open the song off, as well as bells and lap steel guitar later as the song progresses. Despite its long twenty-five minute run time, there is not a dull moment to be seen. The slow, driving beat that comes in at around the six minute mark feels barren and sun-baked while simultaneously dripping with detail, the subtle guitar inflections, bends, drone notes and feedback creating a restless feel that would be a fitting soundtrack to an endless walk through a desert.
The track consists of three main sections which undergo a great deal of evolution, the tension in each portion being built and expelled extremely well. And at several points, Phil Puleo‘s truly monstrous drumming shines through, punctuating the beginnings and endings of the track’s various detours, making this not only one of the best songs on the record, but possibly one of the greatest and most gratifyingly tense songs in Swans‘ entire discography.
The remaining lengthy tracks on the album go through equally as exciting stages of tension and release, one of the most notable moments being in the album’s title track which reprises the opening theme from Bring The Sun off their previous record. But they also show their ability to write more concisely with the tracks People Like Us and the haunting When Will I Return? Not only do these songs help to ease the flow of the album, acting as minor pits of respite sandwiched between some of the record’s longest songs, they stand up incredibly well by themselves and show the band’s ability to present more straight-forward narratives in their lyrics. The ending of People Like Us is particularly poignant, ‘People like us, We need to dream to escape, People like us, We need to sleep to awake’ which to me reads as a reference to how art can be used as escapism and, again, strengthens the ambient dreamlike feel the album is shrouded in.
Even the aptly named closing track Finally. Peace. goes over extremely well, rounding the album off effectively and sounding quite obviously like the well needed warm-down the listener would need after the explosive title track that precedes it. It’s drone heavy, richly textured with various vocal layers and incredibly uplifting. And the final abrupt piano motif that closes the album out has an air of hope about it that seems to say ‘We will be back. We’re not sure when or in what form, but we will be back.’
This is undoubtedly my favourite album of the year so far and considering the fact that it’s now late October, I think it’ll be highly unlikely that anything in the next two and a bit months will dethrone The Glowing Man from that spot. This is the pinnacle of experimental/post rock and for a band to be able to produce an album of this stature this far into their career is not only extremely satisfying from a listening standpoint, but incredibly important as it shows a restless desire to push through artistic comfort zones that a lot of other bands in the style, and beyond, could learn from. If there is one new band you listen to this year, make it Swans, and if there is one new album you listen to this year, make it The Glowing Man.
Be sure to follow their Facebook page and buy the album from the links listed above. Support a great band today.
Favourite tracks: All of them.
Least favourite tracks: …