Swans, Filth / Body to Body, Job to Job

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 11.27.11 in Reviews

Swans came out of the same Lower East Side cauldron that birthed No Wave, but the band’s negativism was more complicated. In place of No Wave’s arty abstraction and arch intellectualism, Swans favored brute physicality and visceral, blood-and-guts essence: pounding repetition, savage tunelessness, feedback bubbling like lava, or bile. As Michael Gira told the East Village Eye in 1983, “The best rock ‘n’ roll for me is like a big enema…Our music should be as physical and unavoidable as possible…I like anything that seems to nullify the sense of being…or nullify consciousness.”

The locus horribilis of the entire Swans project

To that end, lyrics that might have come off as sloganeering in the hands of another singer became more like mantras, turning power dynamics into something sublime, a kind of transubstantiation in violence. Gira’s lyrics flipped seamlessly between abuser and abused, master and slave – “Big strong boss/ Break my back/ Blood runs black/ Cut my throat/ Kill me snake/ Do what I say/ You’re the boss” – while Harry Crosby’s bass bulged like the neck veins on the cop who’s about to beat you with his nightstick, and Norman Westberg’s guitar and Roli Mosimann’s drums exploded with the force of a migraine.

Filth / Body To Body, Job to Job


But the band’s multifarious refusal also extended to the formalist Puritanism of American hardcore, with its distrust of any kind of artifice; subtle tape effects accentuated the alien qualities of the band’s profoundly un-musical sound. And where hardcore bent double into the wind, Swans slowed down, showing that a dirge-like stomp could be even more powerful than hardcore’s breakneck pace – stranger, uglier, even more messed up.

Released in 2000, this double-CD edition combines the band’s debut LP, 1983′s Filth, with 1991′s Body to Body, Job to Job, “a collection of 16-track recordings, previously unavailable 24 track studio recordings, live cassette recordings, and sound loops from the years 1982-1985″; it’s rounded out with 24 minutes of a live performance from the Kitchen. Taken together, it’s the locus horribilis of the entire Swans project.