SwansCop/Young God/Greed/Holy Money
Released 1999 on Some Bizarre
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 14/09/2008ce
WHITE CD: 1. TIME IS MONEY (BASTARD) (6:17) 2. MONEY IS FLESH (4:55) 3. ANOTHER YOU (7:14) 4. BLACKMAIL (4:41) 5. A SCREW (HOLY MONEY) (5:00) 6. FOOL#2 (5:48) 7. STUPID CHILD (5:16) 8. ANYTHING FOR YOU (4:48) 9. NOBODY (4:39) 10. A SCREW (5:37) 11. HEAVEN (4:53) 12. COWARD (5:04) 13. A HANGING (5:46) 14. YOU NEED ME (1:21) 15. GREED (6:12)
Compilation from 1999 that features Cop (LP 1984), Young God (EP, 1984), Greed/Holy Money (LPs 1986), and material also found on the singles A Screw and Time is Money (Bastard). Produced by Michael Gira and originally released on K.422 records.
Michael Gira - Vocals, Tapes, Samples, Sounds, Bass, Piano
Harry Crosby - Bass
Norman Westerberg - Guitar
Roli Mossimann - Drums, Tapes
Algis Kizys - Bass
Jarboe - Vocals, Keyboards, Scream
Ronaldo Gonzalez - Drums
Ted Parsons - Drums
Ivan Nahem - Drums
Originating from the No-Wave scene in New York, Swans gained a fearsome reputation for sonic assaults of a level that would result in audience members having nosebleeds, vomiting and otherwise soiling themselves. This might be part of a mythology and similar claims are made for Butthole Surfers and Throbbing Gristle, two acts most definitely related to the mighty Swans.
Michael Gira remained the sole constant member of Swans, though guitarist Norman Westerberg and keyboard-player/vocalist Jarboe were long-term members. This compilation captures the initial line-up of the band at their nastiest - Cop and Young God featuring the fearsome four-piece Swans with producer Roli Mossimann (Foetus/Wiseblood, The The, The Young Gods) on skins (though the prior compilation Filth/Body to Body, Job to Job captures the two-drum version of Swans with Jonathan Kane and there had been a female-guitarist Sue Hanel, who doesn't appear to have featured on any studio recordings).
Like No-Wave peers Mars and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, a large amount of early Swans material is uber-extreme and often fairly unlistenable. They make Sonic Youth sound like Los Campesinos! (SY were very influenced - Thurston Moore recently co-penning a book on No Wave). Whilst I love the odd Teenage Jesus-track like "Red Alert", I tend to find Lydia Lunch's later work with Rowland S. Howard & Clint Ruin more my bag of hammers, as well as the great Queen of Siam LP. I've tried Mars, can take a track or two, but it just sounds like the hum of radiators do to a smacked-out mind...I'm guessing I'm more of a James Chance-man?
I don't know if Swans were influenced by Glenn Branca/Theoretical Girls, but there is a definite similarity - Branca's minimal and full-on guitars seem apt and like much material here and the emphasis on volume suggest an influence on Sunn O))). Early Swans seems hugely influential now, the band cited by Kurt Cobain, The Young Gods (whose moniker came from the Young God e.p.), the aforementioned Sonic Youth, Om, Neurosis (who Jarboe has collaborated with), Black Sun, and the whole Doom Rock thing really. The volume, noise and industrial drums seem to have influenced Kevin Shields' direction from 1988 onwards, along with The Jesus & Mary Chain. & it's very weird to have people cream over Portisheads "Machine Gun", which in 2008 doesn't sound very radical against 1986's "A Screw" or "Time is Money (Bastard)"...
I do feel that it's very handy to have all the material from this period of Swans in one-place and this is certainly the way a reissue should be done...but the material is probably too much for one sitting and I tend to feel the cds should be programmed as the original recordings would. This is especially the case for the Black CD where Cop features from tracks 1 to 8 and Young God from 9 to 12; the White CD showcases Swans' expanding sound and their brief industrial-period.
Gira and Swans certainly didn't compromise and it's pretty amazing to find out that there was somewhere a lot more reductive to go after Black Sabbath, PIL's "Theme" and Joy Division - the Black CD offers up this place and goes a whole album and E.P. beyond the second side of Black Flag's My War, whose primal riffage is another relative. It's all pretty similar stuff, the most basic riffs and rhythms bashed out as Gira repeats the most negative things over the top. Gira's temporary employment on building sites and the routine of employment as well as his bleak preoccupations and troubled background fed in here. There's some full-on videos in the usual places of Gira in loincloth howling over a fearsome racket...sometimes this material is hard to square with the later singer-songwriter work of Gira and his psychedelic/folk works as The Angels of Light with Akron/Family (...as well as giving the world Devendra Banhart).
The White CD sees the line-up of the band change drastically and works through Swans' industrial sound on the unrelenting singles "A Screw" and "Time is Money (Bastard)" which sound like the work-out tapes for Pasolini's Salo, or, the 120 Days of Sodom. The presence of keyboards probably freaked out those enamoured with Swans' grim early material - "Blackmail" not only offers keyboards but a lead vocal from Jarboe whose vocals would contrast with Gira's from song to song for the rest of the band's career. "Blackmail" would later be re-recorded for 1987's Children of God and sounds more like Dead Can Dance or This Mortal Coil.
The Greed/Holy Money material from 1986 is transitional, like Children of God - I recall seeing the video to "New Mind" on The Chart Show and feeling freaked out (strange video screens, a scythe, Gira with axe and torch, eyeballs...though the promo for "A Screw" is even wilder and more fucked up) - "New Mind" refining both versions of Swans found on these discs (as does "Blind Love", "Beautiful Child", and "Dead Love"). Children of God advanced on "Blackmail" here and the side-project The World of Skin showcased a song-based Swans, Gira & co tiring of the expectation and like Dylan Carlson with the first-phase of Earth they'd probably taken things as far as they could go in one-direction...
THE BURNING WORLD.
The next few years would see their cover version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and their disowned major-label album The Burning World released (I don't recall it being that bad, but the band seem to have disowned it!). Gira and co explored music that was closer to Cohen/Reed and had blended country, folk, and gospel, some of it making you think of Dylan's Saved or Tim Hardin. The 1990s saw Swans move through this sound, probably to the irritation of people who wanted "Cop" or "Raping a Slave" inflicted on them...
ANGELS OF LIGHT.
These days I'd rather listen to the Angels of Light, especially their "...Sings Other People" album, but sometimes a record like this is most definitely required. Some may find this material too bleak and unrelenting, but it's certainly influential and therefore Unsung...