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Swans - The Beggar (Young God/Mute)

22 June 2023

It seemed weird to pass through the pandemic without new Swans music – if there’s anyone who seems best-suited to providing the soundtrack to near-apocalypse, it’s Michael Gira and his rotating cast of like minds. After all, Gira has never been afraid to drag his band’s doom-laden art rock through hearts of darkness, letting the tiniest sliver of hope pull it back to the light. But ‘twas not to be, thus four years after the last Swans album, 2019’s epic Leaving Meaning, Gira and crew finally return with The Beggar, another album of grim tidings and aspirational gloom. Some of the song titles indicate exasperation, if not outright exhaustion: “No More of This,” “Ebbing,” “Why Can’t I Have What I Want Any Time That I Want?” and the wry “Michael is Done” aren’t exactly the musings of a settled mind. But Swans have always been about catharsis, not affirmation, and The Beggar is no different. There’s a strain of sixties-era psych running through some tracks, but mostly the group plays to its usual strengths. “Los Angeles: City of Death” pounds with rock abandon without being rock & roll per se, while “Unforming” slides into shimmering beauty. The title cut stretches out its minor key melody like a progressive rock epic without the solos or strange time signatures. The aforementioned “Michael is Done” presents a lesson in how to access the Beatles’ acid pop without actually sounding anything like the Fab Four. In almost patented form, “Paradise is Mine” sums up where the band’s been since the 2010 reunion: a slow, ominous, demi-melodic crawl through cataclysm and irony. Searching for purgation through volume or its afterimage, The Beggar is peak twenty-first century Swans.