Plumbiferous Media

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky - Swans

Sep 26th 2010
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My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky - SwansSwans
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Score: 87

Exper­i­men­tal rock band Swans has once again returned to the music scene, releas­ing for the first time since the band’s breakup over ten years ago. The result is My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. The new album match­es their farewell LP, Sound­tracks for the Blind in nei­ther girth (Rope to the Sky being a rel­a­tive­ly short album) nor tone, but My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky is remark­ably cohe­sive for a new­ly reformed band. More than that, Rope to the Sky is an extreme­ly pow­er­ful, flow­ing album that is, quite sim­ply, a great success.

Front­man Michael Gira pro­vides the vocal ele­ment of My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, employ­ing a vari­ety of vocal styles across the album. Though Gira’s voice is not always present thanks to Swans’ occa­sion­al ambi­ent empha­sis, when it is, he gen­er­al­ly does a decent job inter­lac­ing his voice into the music. How­ev­er, as well-matched to the rest of Swans’ sound as it may be, Gira’s voice is gen­er­al­ly not quite as inter­est­ing as Rope to the Sky’s oth­er ele­ments. Gira often falls into an unchang­ing drone, which is not espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing in and of itself. Deven­dra Ban­hart’s rich­er vocal appear­ance on “You Fuck­ing Peo­ple Make Me Sick” adds a bit of con­trast to Gira’s flat­ter tone, though the switch between tracks is a bit jarring.

As lyrics go, Rope to the Sky is well-writ­ten, if occa­sion­al­ly strange. Swans proves itself quite apt at metaphor and imagery, fill­ing Rope to the Sky with rich sto­ries that com­ple­ment the music per­fect­ly. As Gira sings “The engine divine / Is inside Made­line / The star­dust is yel­low and red / And it’s map­ping out time / Inside of her head,” the ambi­ent, vast­ly expand­ing sound of “Inside Made­line“ ‘s melody draws the images Gira describes in a way that makes them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly incred­i­bly clear and intense­ly cryptic.

Swans is as capa­ble of telling sto­ries with its instru­men­tals as Gira is with his lyrics, and the results are equal­ly cryp­tic. Swans seam­less­ly and beau­ti­ful­ly flows through incred­i­bly con­fus­ing and heav­i­ly emo­tion­al lines. The result is intense­ly mov­ing, even though it seems to make very lit­tle sense at times. Still, it’s clear that Swans at least knows what it is doing, as moments of clar­i­ty pop up just often enough to keep the album going. Those moments have a lot to do with Gira, as the oth­er­wise lack­lus­ter vocals work excel­lent­ly to tie frayed ends togeth­er; how­ev­er, that should­n’t be con­strued to imply that the instru­men­tals depend on the vocals. A sol­id amount of My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky is instru­men­tal, and near­ly all of it works per­fect­ly. The utter­ly ridicu­lous (even by Swans stan­dards) finale to “You Fuck­ing Peo­ple Make Me Sick” is as good at putting the rest of the track in con­text as any bit of singing Gira pro­vides. Instru­men­tals are where Swans tru­ly excels, and Swans has done an incred­i­ble job of rec­og­niz­ing and extort­ing that fact.

My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky may not be a per­fect album, but it is cer­tain­ly an extreme­ly inter­est­ing one. Swans does an excel­lent job cre­at­ing a rich sound­scape that sur­rounds the album, which, com­bined with the vivid imagery of the lyrics, draws incred­i­ble men­tal images. Michael Gira’s vocals aren’t amaz­ing, but nor are they ter­ri­ble - and the degree to which they com­ple­ment the instru­men­tals and to which he suc­ceeds at telling the album’s tales more than makes up for any issues there. As a whole, Rope to the Sky comes togeth­er very well - cer­tain­ly wor­thy of a res­ur­rect­ed Swans.

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