Monday, July 27, 2009

July 27: Swans, "Cop"

Artist: Swans
Album: Cop
Year: 1984
Label: K.422

Throughout the course of music history, there are a number of sub-genres that, though only in existence for a short period of time, have left behind a huge impact on the music map. Serving as the connection between the punk movement of the 1970's and the "noise rock" found in bands like Sonic Youth, there was the short lived "no wave" movement. Though the roots of the sound are varied, the one consistent element of "no wave" music is the concentration on rhythm over melody, abrasive sounds, and harsh, confrontational lyrics. Among the bands who perfected this sound were the likes of The Contortions, D.N.A., and Suicide. Yet one of the finest examples of the "no wave" sound, as well as one of the most captivating, if not disturbing bands in history, can be found in New York based band, Swans. Led by singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Gira, Swans outlasted nearly all of their peers, and are responsible for some of the most hard hitting and unrelenting music ever made. Though each of the bands' albums are brilliant in their own right, Swans 1984 release, Cop, finds the bands' most dynamic lineup at their best, and it is one of the most destructively beautiful albums ever recorded.

First off, the juxtaposition between the bands' name and their sound is one of the starkest contrasts in the history of the English language. However, Gira himself summed it up perfectly when he said, "Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures...with really ugly temperaments." This is truly a perfect description of the music, as the music found on Cop is gloomy, grating, and hostile, yet simultaneously, something about the music is beautiful, and the amount of emotion conveyed throughout the record is second to none. It is on Cop, that one can find the beginnings of numerous genres, from industrial to "doom" metal to "noise" rock. When it comes to creating a complete "mood" record, few rival Cop, as it may very well be the most consistently dark album ever recorded. The album is grimy, ugly, and bludgeons the listener song after song with some of the heaviest and darkest music you'll find anywhere. However, the album avoids becoming cliché, to which so many "goth" and "industrial" records fall prey. While the lyrics and vocals push the album over the edge, it is the music found on Cop that draw the listener in for one of the most abusively amazing musical experiences anywhere.

Until you've experienced it first-hand, there is no way to fully comprehend the powerful and majestic nature of the music found on Cop. The music is unforgiving and truly like nothing else ever recorded. Primarily using single, crushing chords, or looping a series of chords, the music is inexplicably forceful and intense, as the band employs the perfect amount of feedback and distortion to make the songs simply stunning. The trudging, grinding guitar playing of Norman Westberg gives the songs all the mood they need, and the repetitive chords add to the feeling of being pummeled over and over by each song. Bassist, Harry Crosby uses short loops and a fair amount of distortion; and it is often his playing that provides the musics' gloomy, dark moods. Drummer Roli Mosimann is nothing short of sensational throughout the album, and at many points, it sounds as if he is trying to destroy his drum kit by playing as hard as he can. It is within Mosimann's playing that the songs seem to somehow swing, though such a sound seems almost impossible given the nature of the music. Mosimann is also somewhat known for being the original producer for Marilyn Manson's Portrait Of An American Family album, though he would eventually be replaced by Trent Reznor. Though many bands have attempted to find the balance between aggressive, dark music and becoming a cliché of the "goth/industrial" sound, none have ever succeeded as well as the music found on Swans' Cop.

Throughout the bands' entire fifteen year career, the core of their sound lived within founder, Michael Gira. Providing all of the music and lyrics on Cop, it gives a clear picture as to what a despondent and disturbed individual lived within Gira. Often lost behind the manner in wihch he delivers his lyrics, the pain and sorrow conveyed within Gira's singing is uncanny, and one would be hard pressed to find a more raw and unguarded singer anywhere. Gira's gruff, in-your-face vocals take the gloomy music and turn it into downright horrific at times, as even when it is just a series of loud moans, like on the song, ""Why Hide," the pain behind his singing is nothing short of unsettling. The lyrics found throughout Cop are just as ruthless and intesnse as the music itself. The title track is one of the most brutal indictments of police brutality ever recorded, and it truly makes N.W.A.'s infamous "F*ck Tha Police" seem harmless in comparison. To quickly sum it up, while N.W.A. may have dropped more choice four letter words, none of their rhymes are even in the same time zone as lyrics like, "...nobody rapes you like a cop in jail..." Many of the lyrics are similarly blunt and aggressive, making Cop one of the most halting, stunning records ever recorded. The manner in which Michael Gira delivers his unrelenting lyrics is nothing short of perfect, and it draws the sound of the entire band together in a single, disconcerting, concentrated fury of brilliance.

Dark, aggressive music is often misunderstood; usually because the band in question takes things too far and becomes cliché. This can be seen in an overwhelming majority of "goth" bands, as well as many industrial bands, as they feel as if playing loud and shouting is a substitute for original musical content, style, and talent. The roots of these genres were forged in the late 1970's, as bands split away from the punk and hard rock scene, and began experimenting with new sounds and musical approaches. Easily one of the most unique and important bands of this time were the avant "no wave" band, Swans. Making their own brand of calamitous, bleak music for nearly fifteen years, they outlasted nearly all of their peers, as well as an overwhelming majority of the bands who attempted to duplicate their style. By far one of the most forceful and fierce bands to ever set foot in a studio, their music remains some of the most potent, overpowering music ever committed to tape. Creating grim, dreary musical landscapes, finished off with the mournful, harrowing singing of Michael Gira, there is simply no other band in history that sounds like Swans. Each of the bands' records is well worth owning, as their originality and focus are consistent throughout their entire career. However, their 1984 release, Cop, remains one of the heaviest, most brutal, yet undeniably compelling albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Half Life," Your Property," and "Cop."

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