Swans live @ The Button Factory, Dublin 25 May 2015...

A Monday night on Dublin’s live circuit is usually the preserve of only the most committed music fan, but this is no ordinary Monday night, and New York’s Swans are no ordinary band. On the back of two of the most highly rated albums of the last five years, Michael Gira and his cohorts arrived to play a sold out show in the Button Factory, a return to the same venue they played in August 2013. The place is rammed; their reputation as a band capable of delivering a near religious experience ensures that the Button Factory is thronged with the devoted, the curious and a healthy cluster of those who like to be seen when the latest hip band rolls into town. I had been looking forward to this for months – last year’s To Be Kind was my favourite album of the year (reviewed here) and the prospect of seeing Gira and the band deliver these frighteningly intense songs in a live setting meant that this was one of my most eagerly anticipated gigs in quite some time. Their reputation as one of the loudest bands on the circuit is well earned – arriving late,  I had to force myself in through the only entrance where people weren’t literally spilling out the doors. Unfortunately, this happened to be the entrance right next to the stage so for the first thirty minutes, I felt the full force of the Swans brutal aural assault. Swans aren’t just loud – their sound completely swamps the senses – you cannot hear yourself think or breathe when they are at full blast. On first impact, you can’t help but be impressed. Their singular form of musical brutality retains an almost masochistic thrill but somewhere after they play ‘A Little God in My Hands’, the impact begins to diminish.  The fifteen minutes of drones and shrill, cacophonous feedback that follows gives away to another piece of music of long, meandering nothingness punctuated by punishing, all out, sonic meltdowns.  The dynamic, measured build ups that are such a feature of To Be Kind are lost. Gira is at the centre of the maelstrom they create on stage but seems somewhat detached and disinterested, limply conducting proceedings by waving his hands around in the air, and throwing the occasional glare in the direction of the musicians. His vocal chants are largely garbled and unintelligible and an hour into the set, I begin to feel something I did not expect to feel entering the venue – boredom. Retreating to the back of the room robs the music of much of its sheer visceral power, and those long, noodling instrumental passages begin to become nothing more than a test of endurance. The pummelling ‘Bring The Sun Toussaint L’ouverture’ stirs things up briefly, but the effect of yet another punishing bout of heavy riffing begins to feel like being beaten over the head with a blunt instrument; as the show reaches the two hour mark, the realisation hits home that this has been a crushingly disappointing experience. There is no doubt that there will be many who came away from the show feeling they got the near religious experience they had hoped for. Swans live are uncompromising, experimental and challenging but for me, they just didn’t excite or entertain. It was a curiously and disappointingly hollow show, a turgid two hours of art rock delivered with maximum force but devoid of...

Best Albums of 2014 Dec11

Best Albums of 2014

End of year round-up time. There has been some truly outstanding albums released in the past 12 months but for me, nothing came close to the tour de force that is To Be Kind by Swans. A truly stunning record from the veteran art rockers. What are some of your favourite albums of 2014?

Best Songs of 2014 Dec10

Best Songs of 2014

Let’s list again: 30 of my favourite songs of 2014.

Swans – To Be Kind...

Who could have seen this coming? Thirty two years since they first emerged as the enfants terribles of the New York music scene, Swans have just delivered the year’s most uncompromising, thundering and blindingly brilliant album so far. Nothing even comes close to this;To Be Kind is two hours of music of gut-wrenching intensity, a series of never-ending peaks that take the rudiments of rock music and summons up something that is strikingly original. With To Be Kind, Michael Gira and his cohorts have delivered an album that surpasses their critically acclaimed 2012 release The Seer in all respects. The days when listening to a Swans record was something of a masochistic experience, a brutal form of aural punishment are long gone; To Be Kind is arguably their most accessible album while still challenging and demanding more from the listener than any other rock band would dare to. It’s a record that requires patience – two hours of music spread over just ten tracks with every minute resonating with a clarity of purpose and a vibrancy beyond the capabilities of most contemporary rock acts. Michael Gira turned sixty this year; it is incredible to think that he is still making albums as edgy and vital as this while his peers have settled for the merry go-round of endless greatest hits tours and lame rehashes of past glories. Picking out highlights on a record as consistently brilliant as this is almost pointless – the slow, low slung blues of ‘Just a Boy (for Chester Burnett)’ and the manic ‘A Little God in My Hands’ with its long blasts of dissonant horns set the tone – Gira prowls, growls and yelps his way through these tracks, utterly convincing as some kind of deranged shaman. ‘Bring the Sun / Toussaint...