Words By: Jordan Murray
There’s something oddly satisfying about hearing Swans embrace subtlety. For all of The Glowing Man’s overzealousness- there’s a lot- it’s difficult to argue that Michael Gira has done anything too outlandish with his experimental compositions. It’s unsurprising, as every iteration of Swans circa Soundtracks for the Blind has faced a similar crisis of sound and direction. That it might be the final effort by this iteration is both a relief and disappointment; a testament to Swans’ formula and Gira’s songwriting generally, The Glowing Man is as compelling as Swans have always been.
Without wanting to palaver about the specificities, The Glowing Man is excellent, utilizing lengthy compositions to explore the listener’s frustration and cathartic experience. Absent an “Oxygen” or “The Seer Returns”, two of The Seer and To Be Kind’s more accessible compositions, much of The Glowing Man feels like fan service, never too outlandish as to wrangle new listeners, whilst never providing a moment of respite. It’s a rather apt distillation of what we expect from Swans nowadays.
Exhaustion is predictable; its centerpiece, “Frankie. M”, is Gira’s fullest realization of his vision yet, utilizing some 20-minutes for brute force and jarringly poor lyrical mantras (62-year old Gira chants ‘MDMA’ like 27-year old Shaun Ryder). Nevertheless, it’s heavier and more forceful than anything your favourite heavy metal band might have written. No matter how brilliant, though, it’s more than a little disappointing to hear what is essentially an exciting outlook on heavy music sound repetitious if not formulaic.
The Glowing Man is not as good as The Seer and certainly not as good as To Be Kind. As luck would have it, though, Michael Gira is one of few songwriters who genuinely deserve accolades at their worst, consistently brilliant if imperfect. The Glowing Man is flawed, wrote with error and riddled with embarrassment; it’s also, likely, one of 2016’s best albums.