Published Oct 30, 2019There's only one rule when it comes to Swans — don't be conventional. The World's Strangest Band has existed on the outer fringes of the music scene for almost 40 years now, held together by the singular vision of Michael Gira and his revolving cult of like-minded maniacs. The Glowing Man was meant to be a final send-off, and its followup, Leaving Meaning, does feel like something of an epilogue for a bizarre career.
In true Swans fashion, Leaving Meaning breaks all the rules, this time by going softer then anyone expected. Trimmed down and constrained, the longest track clocks in at a measly 12 minutes, a step back from the quarter-to-half-hour epics Gira has been writing for the past decade. Some songs stick to the usual anarchic ideas, "The Hanging Man" being a tasty cut worthy of inclusion on any forthcoming Best Of, but there are also introspective nightmare-lullabies like "Annaline," "Amnesia" and "Cathedrals of Heaven." Even in the moments when Swans descend into their trademark madness, it's with a placid, laidback feeling, as opposed to the nuclear musical meltdown of To Be Kind or The Seer (two of the best experimental albums of all time, for new listeners).
Easygoing suits Gira. There could be a bright future in this if he decides to pursue a more ambient sound for his project. Diehards might mourn the death of the Swans who tore Yonge-Dundas Square a new one with their legendary show in 2014, but it seems like a natural progression. He sounds more focused and (dare we say it) happier.
Rest assured, Michael the Misanthrope isn't going full Christmas album yet, at least not while tracks like "My Phantom Limb" exist. But it's gratifying to hear him try new things yet again, and not follow what his fans want. This wouldn't work for almost any other band, but then, Swans aren't any other band. They exist in a class all to themselves, and whenever that status gets threatened, they pivot and move away. Few bands have that kind of mettle, let alone after nearly 40 years. (Young God)