Swans

The Great Annihilator

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After a three-year break occasioned in part by wrangles with the Sky label, Swans returned in 1995 with a vengeance, as always pursuing their unique muse of dramatic, ever-more textured music. Gira and Jarboe work with a fantastic core band this time out, including returning veteran Westberg, who trades off guitar duties with Steele, at points playing together with him -- a magnificent combination. Other returning musicians include Kizys and Parsons, while newer players like drummer Bill Rieflin from the Chicago Wax Trax! circle join as well. As is par for the course by now, Swans seem incapable of producing a bad album, and Annihilator is crammed full of astonishing songs to prove it. Everything's a little more stripped-down here, possibly due to having a central band, but it's still all very lushly arranged and created, perfectly balancing force and restraint. Lead-off single "Celebrity Lifestyle" is one of the catchiest things the band has ever done, but it's still uniquely Swans -- a minimal, throbbing song matched with a sharp lyric on starlust and what it might mean. "I Am the Sun" pounds as hard as any early Swans track, but the use of careful space between blasts, Gira's heavily echoed, out-of-nowhere vocal (accentuated by equally vivid background vocals from Jarboe), and tempo shifts clearly demonstrates the constantly evolving nature of Swans music; the band is never content to simply repeat the past. Jarboe's own stand-out tracks include "Mother/Father," a brawling number showcasing both her and the band at their full-on best, and "My Buried Child," with her softly husked take on a terrifying Gira lyric, which is carried by a roiling rhythm. This is followed immediately by the sweeping, cinematic "Warm," where she contributes wordless vocals. Once again, Swans have created an epic, incredible work of art.

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