Music’s never been an emotional escape for me. In most cases, creating music has taken over that role instead, while listening to it is more recreational. What I seek in music, usually, ends up being simple, catchy pop songs. That’s how I’ve always been, really. People will tell me about the inner rolercoasters that “Album A” put them on and I more often than not find myself unable to reciprocate those feelings. So what am I supposed to say when an album finally does that to me — makes me have a real emotional response?
“My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” surprised me in more ways than one, but the foremost was that it accomplished something for me that an album has never been able to do before.
It scared me.
Swans, or Michael Gira more specifically, has a knack for creating songs with a bleak, disturbing atmosphere. Each song usually sticks to the same tricks in order to do this: Droning repetitive drum beats, guitar riffs that slowly swell and get progressively louder as time goes on, and a collection of twisted lyrics. This is some powerful music here. And it will make you uneasy. It’s the sort of uneasiness you get when you notice a suspicious looking person walking near you on a dark street. Sure, it’s probably nothing. He’s just a guy walking, doing whatever it is he’s doing. But you can’t seem to fight the odd suspicion that at any moment he’s going jump you. “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” is that guy, but with a trench-coat concealing a knife and, yes, it is for you.
The track “Reeling the Liars In” feels calm, and alarmingly friendly, but remains hostile at the same time. The song is backed by upbeat vocals and vibrant open chords, but under it are a set of self-righteous, religious overtones and images of “Reeling the liars in/removing their face/and collecting their skin.” The song has an odd contrast that makes the listener feel almost disgusted by the way Michael Gira so nonchalantly delivers his verses.
“You Fucking People Make Me Sick” is a little more upfront about its dark vibe. The song is one entire build up for possibly the most unsettling moment of the album. As Gira sings “I love you/I need you/Oh show me how to shine” he is joined by a slightly off-key child back up singer repeating his lines (Who is, I believe, his daughter). That is until the final line “Now give me what is mine” where it breaks out of the main riff, throws in a millisecond of silence and hits you with sounds that I describe as the kind of sounds that you can only hear during the apocalypse. Slamming drums, a cacophony of horns, sounds of planes — all of it equally horrifying.
“My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” is a truly terrifying work. Powerful, discomforting and occasionally beautiful at points, this album is definitely something anyone who appreciates music in any capacity should listen to. There’s something so mystifying about the dreaded world that Swans managed to create here.
WINNER: “My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky” by Swans
WHY: A consistently frightening collection of songs that will captivate you.