Swans are arguably one of the longest running experimental acts with a constantly evolving style and a revolving cast of characters. Anchored around the madness and genius of Michael Gira, Swans has tested its audience from their brutal no wave material of the early to mid '80s, their gothic and neofolk sound of the early '90s, up until their first dissolution around the time of their highly experimental 1996 work, Soundtracks for the Blind. Following Swans return in 2010, they became quite a different beast. While their first record since their reformation showed a lot of the acoustic sounds of Gira's other project, the Angels of Light, 2012's The Seer is where this incarnation of Swans began to show their unique aesthetic; twisted and hypnotic epic length compositions.
The Glowing Man is meant to close out this incarnation of Swans, and complete a trilogy of sorts, beginning with The Seer and followed by 2014's excellent To Be Kind (my favorite album of that year). I say a trilogy because these records share a lot in terms of sonic qualities and lyrical content, though each has its own nature. The Seer was the darkest of all; To Be Kind was the most straight forward and aggressive; and The Glowing Man is the most subtle, hypnotic, and possibly most difficult of the trilogy.
The difficulty lies in the album's density. There's a lot to unpack here, and a lot of subtle incremental builds and instrumental colors that add a lot of nuance to these 20+ minute tracks. Where as To Be Kind had some pretty straightforward songs like 'Oxygen' or 'A Little God in My Hands', these songs are a little bit more imposing, and take some time to really settle in. That's not to say there aren't some tracks that aren't immediately moving, though. The title track's groove is undeniable, the strange strings at the beginning of 'Cloud of Unknowing' were very engaging, and 'When Will I Return?' had me on the verge of tears the first time I heard it. Sung by Michael Gira's wife Jennifer, the track explores her past history of sexual assault, which must have taken a lot of courage to sing and relive in the music, It's really a reflection of the experience and a celebration of her survival, and a super powerful one at that, and definitely a highlight of the record for me.
For those who are listening to this and aren't quite getting into it, my advice would be to give it some time. This isn't an album that grabs you, but an album that you immerse yourself in, and let it take control. It really does put you in a trance at some points. It's ability to hypnotize is pretty astounding. Overall, I think this is a great way for this version of Swans to go out, and though I don't currently think it bests To Be Kind for me (though it may have higher peak moments than that album), I could see it growing on me as I spin it more and more. This is definitely one of those albums that will grow on you.
Out of a total of five stars, I give this album:
What did you think of The Glowing Man? Did it live up to your expectations? What albums are you currently listening to that you can't get enough of? Check back soon for more reviews.
"Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use."