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By 1995, Swans had evolved through several styles of music, from no wave skronk to punishing industrial sludge to Southern Gothic ballads to driving, droning guitar rock. At the core, however, an uncompromising attitude remained the glue that held it all together, making each change a logical step in progression rather than an inability to focus. Finally, the album that was laughably dismissed by some critics as an attempt at mainstream accessibility sees a fully remastered reissue alongside founder/frontman Michael Gira’s debut solo album from the same year.
More than any previous album, The Great Annihilator compiles the band’s various forays into a succinct sonic “best of.” Here, the intense thudding percussion that marked their earlier work meets the heavy majestic drone of their later. Dark, swampy ballads emerge from the din as well, making it the album that laid the blueprint for the Swans’ second wave. Every nuance, from 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky to last year’s The Glowing Man, can be heard, including Gira’s lamenting drawl encapsulating Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison and Johnny Cash, while keyboardist Jarboe also turns out some stellar vocal performances, particularly on “Mother/Father.”
Drainland, on the other hand, espouses a much more intimate aura, having been recorded in Bill Rieflin’s (Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M.) living room. The Swans sound gets stripped down to its creator in swirling samples, repetitive beats and beatnik no wave cabaret. Lyrics center on Gira’s alcoholism and rise to fame written with both self-effacing humor and inner pain, making the songs all the more personal. It’s Gira at his most naked and revealing.
Swans did not last long after these recordings – they released only one more album before disbanding for over a decade. Fortunately, we can hear these great works again sounding better than ever before. Discover where the second wave of Swans was born.
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