Monday, October 08, 2007
SWANS - White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity 2LP (Young God/1991)
I wouldn't recommend to anyone that this 1991 magnum opus be the first Swans disc they buy, but I'd probably tell them that if they're bitten by the Swans bug, then they should certainly add this to the purchase pile at some point in their life. In that laughable Top 100 Albums Of All Time list I published a few months back, I did mention a Swans platter: 1984's Cop. It remains one of the most single-minded, aesthetically perfect and utterly brutal albums ever released. For unrelenting grimness, I recommend it highly. 's funny... as much as I love Cop, there are two things I must say about it in the year 2007: A) I rarely listen to it all the way through, as it's simply too much for one sitting; and B) it's pretty goddamn hilarious that an album which was considered one of the most extreme takes on "rock" ever upon its release, a disc (and sound) which would find no audience reach beyond NYC art-fags and their imitators/worshippers worldwide, now sounds a lot like a plethora of doom/death-metal releases currently selling 100s of 1,000s of units as I write this, possibly also in a shopping mall near you. Somehow the "sound", in the 20+ years since its release, has also found itself a home in the 'burbs. But that's another story...
White Light... was one of the first Swans albums I investigated, right after my purchase of Cop back in '91, and, of all reasons, I could pinpoint my curiosity being piqued by a goddamn Mykel Board review at the time (published in his Nothing But Record Reviews zine), in which he stated that whilst much of White Light reminded him of Barbra Streisand and would probably disappoint old-time Swans fans looking for a dirge, it still remained possibly the best-produced album in his collection. I'll second that. The sound here is massive and incredibly dense, multilayered and powerful. I am no audiophile, but before I drop dead I wouldn't mind giving this a spin on a $20,000 stereo system.
White Light was the first album the band released after their disastrous Bill Laswell-produced major-label stinker, Burning World, and it's likely safe to say they needed to prove they hadn't totally lost the plot. Michael Gira produced this himself, and for me this is the first Swans album in their "redemptive" phase (that is, after the mid '80s when they dropped the misery act and started to sound like a bunch of Born Agains) which really captured the musical power they were seeking. Children Of God is a fine set, for sure, but the production still suffers from a slightly tinny, '80s feel. I wouldn't say that Jarboe sounds anything like Streisand, though I guess Board's smart-alecry had a point: there's a heavy element of melodramatic cheese here and a level of bombastic pomposity that would make Magma blush, and it's all the better for it! Gira's songwriting is at its peak, doing his best Leonard Cohen impression on "Love Will Save You", and the album's opener, the pummeling "Better Than You", is absolutely one of the best songs he's ever sung. There's only 12 songs here, most of them a fair length, and not an ounce of filler. Of all the Swans' output, White Light remains the one album I certainly play the most, from start to finish, too.
Gira stands as one of the few '80s u/ground survivors still doing something worth giving a shit about (running a fine label and still playing and recording w/ the Angels Of Light), and for my money the Swans' artistic trajectory, from downtown drug-addled doomsters through to Born Again life-affirmers right on through to their failed rock-star phase and their ultimate realignment and readjustment as a self-managed/produced rock band making a series of excellent records in the early/mid '90s surely makes them one of the best and most interesting rock 'n' roll outfits the US of A has spat out in the last quarter of a century, don'tchya think?