We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head

All Tomorrow’s Parties, Asbury Park New Jersey, October 1st 2011. Shortly before Swans come on stage in the dilapidated theatre I’m looking over the shoulder of the man seated in front of me, and watching him scroll through pictures on his phone (a girl holding a dog an amusingly-named confectionary brand) and reading his BBMs: "the layout is awesome, the bands are great. Jeff Mangum nearly made me cry," he writes. Fuck knows what Swans made him do.

Encountering the might, majesty and physicality of the Swans live experience is in one moment transcendental, masochistic, liberating and an act of feeling subjugated to brute force expressed through the bloodying lashes of sound. They are, as the recordings collected on We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head show, a ‘with us or against’ us kind of band, Old Testament in their offering and demanding of zeal and commitment. This is, of course, a very good thing. At that ATP show, M. Gira put it rather well himself: "Just because you have seats here doesn’t mean you can’t stand up, you lard-ass Americans. Stand the fuck up and get some exercise. Come forward. This is a rock show. I am not your polite act."

"Come forward": there is indeed something very Pentacostal about the Swans live experience, and not just in the sonics. The bells, of course, and then Gira’s throaty roar on ‘Sex God Sex’ as the band remain silent "Praise the Lord! Praise Jesus! Jesus Christ! Come down, say his name out loud!" like the industrial Reverend Ian Paisley.

And as well as God, there is Man. So many of the aesthetics of the wild men of rock are based around cliché and empty gestures, the clowning around as cowboys, the toying with occultism, the pretence at degeneracy by men who probably never offer their poor spouses anything but the missionary position, and oral only on odd-numbered Tuesdays. Swans, on the other hand, with all their belligerence (on ‘Yr Property’ grunts that sound like fucking) and sonic brutalism, do it all so hard and so well it feels like masculinity toppling back and falling over itself… so heavy with anger and sweat and violence that it actually transcends gender, and instead breaks apart what it means to be human, and confronted by the overwhelming joy and pleasure of sound.

You don’t really need me to tell you about the power of these performances, the brilliant withholding and unleashing of energy, the mastery of volume, crescendo, rythym and dread. The cannonade of ‘No Words No Thoughts’ is potent enough, one guitar squeal howling into infinity like a hurricane through a high mountain pass, or the wild stampede that closes ‘Eden Prison’ . ‘The Seer (Intro) I Crawled’ features Spaghetti Western harmonica and guitars before disappearing into a blood-red pool of noise. ‘The Apostate’ transcends the boundaries between rock and electronic music, with the repetitive thrum of the rhythm, distorted woodwind and fragments of vocals sounding not unlike Throbbing Gristle. Indeed, in many ways this record makes for a fascinating partner to Carter Tutti Void’s Transverse. Like those three, Gira is an artist for whom ‘compromise’ is scratched out of every book on his shelves. He’s similarly misunderstood as a nihilist, when in fact what is offered here is a communal experience of release and joy.

The remarkable achievement of We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head is to capture in digitised file format the very spirit of Swans, these great, dark eddies of sound, these barked exhortations from M Gira (you can almost sense his sweat and his spit, the terrifying glares he sets upon his compadres) is the distillation of the energy that can come from men with guitars and some things to bash and rattle, but so rarely does. This is not a live album, but an alive album, one of the most visceral, beautiful records you’ll hear this year.

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