You, me, the music, and me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

SWANS Children of God/World of Skin

Young God Records YG02 (1986-88)

I bought Children of God while I was a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia during the late 1980's... at the time, I was taking advantage of living in a larger city with cooler record stores than my hometown had and was sampling a variety of "alternative" or "college" rock. It was a little different from most of the music I was listening to at the time... much heavier and "metallic" than, say, R.E.M. or the Replacements (or even the Fall). At the time, it also seemed a bit simplistic in both its lyrical and musical content... lots of moaning and repetitive melodic figures over simple, plodding beats and general self-pity... what we would soon refer to as "goth" (and not the relatively happy, poppy kind you're probably thinking of. I mean, get an earful of this:

Right now I should probably apologize to all hardcore Swans fans for calling their favourite band "goth". I take it back, OK? Put down the axe.).

The funny thing is that, while this music was probably aimed at my late-teen age group at the time it was released, it's only now, as a thirtysomething adult, that I've come to appreciate it. I picked up this reissue (which features a second disc of comparatively sedate but still somber material released under the side-project name "World of Skin") partly out of curiosity and partly for nostalgia, and I was surprised at how well it holds up. Not all the songs bludgeon, either; the ballads "In My Garden" and "You're Not Real, Girl" would make great cover-song material for, say, Leonard Cohen. My favourite, however, is "Like a Drug", a keyless, joyless stomp featuring sledgehammer guitars and drums, bellowing brass, and a chorus of siren-like voices druggedly singing "sha-la-la-la".

The sound quality is remarkably good on even the loudest of these tracks, and this and other reissues from the band are well worth seeking out by the adventuresome listener. After this album, Swans would explore gentler sounds on albums like The Burning World and Love of Life, but Children of God shows the band to be the missing link between punk, metal, and (ducks head) goth.


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