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Swans / Anna von Hausswolff (live at Paloma)

Nîmes 2 November 2016

Anna von Hausswolff live October 2016Utilising a 12-string guitar, an array of keyboards and driving, cursive songs belted out like both Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil gone epically, darkly coldwave, Anna von Hausswolff and her band combine big, beating drums with a desert swing and a huge bass swell charged with evocative dread.

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Swans (live at Islington Assembly Rooms)

London 14 October 2016

Swans live October 2016Swans are a strange, beautiful and terrifying beast, a bit like that white royal waterfowl whose name escapes me but can break your arm with one beat of its mighty wing; but with shorter necks. And tonight sees the second of their London performances on the UK leg of what frontman Michael Gira says will be the last outing for their current incarnation.

So hopes are high, especially given his choice of splitting their London gig into two nights in a smaller venue, the intimate and alarmingly posh Islington Assembly Hall. Last time I saw them, at the Roundhouse, the size of the venue and some dodgy sound left me feeling faintly disappointed; although disappointment is a relative term

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Swans – The Glowing Man

Young God (North America) / Mute (Rest of the world)

Swans - The Glowing ManThe Glowing Man marks the culmination of what frontman Michael Gira calls “the current phase” of Swans, and is the fourth album by the current twenty-first century line-up which has been delivering uncompromising beauty and brutality since 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. It shares with that album a returned fascination with traditional song forms, though for the most part these are buried within the epic abstractions of sound that characterised the intervening albums The Seer and To Be Kind. Taken as a whole, the four form a unique and wonderful ten or so hours of music; which would probably kill you if ingested all at

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Swans – White Light From The Mouth of Infinity / Love Of Life Deluxe Edition

Young God (North America) / Mute (Rest of the world)

Disc 1 — White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity

Swans - White Light From The Mouth Of InfinityAfter a disastrous flirtation with a major label on The Burning World, White Light From The Mouth of Infinity was a self-financed regaining of confidence for Michael Gira. The acoustic spirit of Burning World was still high on the agenda, but the lacklustre verve that cursed that LP was ditched in favour of something more epic.

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Swans (live at The Roundhouse)

London 21 May 2015

Swans live at the Roundhouse– The Conscious Pause –

It is daunting to write about a show that was attended by so many Freq contributors because I know they’ll all read this and I am sure they will all have things to add (or deny). But what does that matter? It is daunting to write about a Swans show, because – Swans –

This was my second time at a live Swans show. And of course as I write that I realise live swans makes it sound like some Tudor feast centrepiece and really that’s not it at all. I had forgotten I was even going until last week, although perhaps that’s not quite accurate — it hit me last week that the show

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Swans (live at The Marble Factory)

Bristol 20 May 2015

Swans live at The Marble FactorySadly, I only caught the end of Okkyung Lee’s set — a real pity as that scraping reverberation of cello was curving some lovely tonal mirages. It wasn’t long before the Swans gradually graced the stage (sometime around 8.37pm). First Thor Harris, who brewed a lovely metallic warble from his massive gong, a sound that sizzled excitingly in the ear. Phil Puleo joined him, affixing rattling metal and falling salvage to the hypothermic fray. The clatter brought on fond memories of Coil’s “How To Destroy Angels”, but here it was more oceanic – vast, a rolling rise and fall of shingle-caught sibilance to be savoured.

With the appearance of Christoph Hahn, things were thrown into more acidic directions, his lap steel full of

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Swans – Filth Deluxe Edition

Young God/Mute

Combined into a CD trilogy with Body To Body and a disc combining E.P.#1 with a dusted-off set of live recordings, the fearsome brute that is the first Swans album Filth emerges once again in a deluxe edition (and by itself on remastered vinyl via Young God) to terrify the listener and brutalise them into unwavering submission. Michael Rodham-Heaps reports.

Disc 1 — Filth

Swans - Filth Deluxe EditionIf an album suited its artwork, that Judge Death set of nashers poking out of the blackness on Filth goes some way to preparing you for the bleak monolithic experience that Swans’ 1983 début album imparts. It’s certainly a hot’n’sweaty beast, reductively stabbing at your head with nihilistic zeal and an immediacy that empowers, gives you an impression that you are invincible.

A certain

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Swans (live at Brixton Electric/Concorde 2)

Swans live at Concorde (Pic: Al Robertson)Brixton Electric London 27 May 2014

Since reforming – or, perhaps more accurately, reincarnating – in 2010, Swans have rapidly become one of the most extraordinary musical entities of our age. Their comeback album, My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky, was a fine release, and they soon re-established themselves as a formidable live act. But with 2012’s The Seer – a vast, audacious, and stunningly wonderful double album – they scaled hitherto unconquered peaks, and matched that with a series of quite astonishing live shows which were about as close to holy communion as some of us are ever likely to get (see here for Jim Bliss’ review of one such gig in Dublin in 2013. I wasn’t there, but I

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Swans – To Be Kind

Young God (North America)/ Mute (Rest of the world)

Swans - To Be KindI always thought there was some kind of law, like a law of physics rather than one drafted for use in courtooms, like the Universal Speed Limit or something, that stated that it was physically impossible for a band to come back from the void of non-existence and still be at the top of their game. You know what I mean. Your favourite band reforms and, in a best case scenario, makes an album that’s pretty good – almost as good, in fact, as their old stuff. But never any better than that. It’s just not allowed.

Which means I must have imagined the last few years of Swans, which is pretty cool,

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Swans/Josephine Foster – (live at The Button Factory)

Dublin 15 August 2013

There is a story. “It’s all made of stories, you know”. There is a story that back in 1980 David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) read an article in the music press about a band from England who were rewriting all the rules, who had discovered the new sound. Impressed by what he read, and based on the description of the music not the music itself, Byrne wrote and recorded “The Overload,” the final track on Remain In Light… sinister lyrics intoned gravely over the top of a long menacing drone. A little later he finally got to hear Joy Division and admits to being disappointed. “They sounded closer to a rock group than I thought they were”.

A little over a decade later I first heard the name My Bloody Valentine when a friend enthused wildly about their new album, Loveless. I listened to his

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Swans (live at l’Epicerie Moderne)

Lyon 27 March 2013

Michael Gira of Swans Lyon March 2013The advantage of seeing Swans play at a relatively small venue like l’Epicerie Moderne over, say, one of the larger auditoriums in a bigger city (or one with a more active fanbase) like Paris or New York is that the experience is a little more intimate than when the gig is held in a very big room with not as much chance of seeing the band themselves. Actually, it usually is possible, by daring to approach the massive speaker stacks and taking a long-term risk to the hearing, but here the venue is not so huge and for that matter, not so crowded.

“To be kind, to be real”

Once the band have entered to enthusiastic applause, they set

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Swans (live at Koko)

Koko, London 15 November 2012

Following their new album, The Seer, Swans first live performance in London for two years was genuinely eagerly awaited. The second album from the ‘reactivated’ Swans had shown that despite, or indeed because of, the long break they were still capable of producing innovative music that defies comparison with any of their contemporaries. Swans reputation as live performers goes before them, and a performance including material from the demanding and yet uplifting new album held the promise of being a particularly special event.

I have never been to a gig with such a palpable sense of anticipation. Every corner and balcony at Koko was packed and the nervous excitement of the crowd communicated an intense expectation of a spiritual experience, rather than just a gig. Sir Richard Bishop’s low key but powerful warm up set the bar high and served to crank up the

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Swans – The Seer

Young God

When Michael Gira announced that he was reactivating Swans (not a reunion, remember?) it came as a bit of a surprise; albeit one that garnered some excitement. The album that followed showed that the band had fleshed out the folk trappings of Gira’s Angels of Light project; instilling some of Swans heaviness onto the Angels’ southern twang. Some people liked it, some didn’t, but it was still an announcement that Swans were indeed back.

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Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

Young God

Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The SkySwans are back, and it’s an event so massive, so inconceivably vast and unimaginable, that the very fact of its occurrence drowns out even the loudest of their tracks. Michael Gira, of course, has never been away, continuously pumping out increasingly diverse and intimate music under the name Angels of Light, occasionally dipping his toes back into that pool of intensity on which Swans used to glide. But now he’s taken the plunge again, and immersed himself once more into the sublime brutality of one of music’s most relentless outfits.

Swans’ following being what it is, this was a pretty dangerous move, whichever way you look at it. To produce something that could have equally

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