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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