A farewell to the current incarnation of experimental rock band Swans, The Glowing Man finds Michael Gira and co in impressive form.
Gone may be the brutal oppressiveness of the band’s early post-industrial sound but their new songs, with their epic string movements and slow, repetitive layers of guitars and percussion, are no less intense.
The 25-minute Cloud of Unknowing, in particular, is as grandiose and unsettling as anything in their canon.
In his notes for this double album, whose recording was funded by fans, 62-year-old Gira notes it’s been his “privilege” through the group’s collective efforts during live performances “to just barely grasp something of infinite in the sound and experience generated by a force that is definitely greater than all of us combined”.
As a swan song for the group’s line-up over the past six years, The Glowing Man is a spellbinding goodbye and one that’s as unsentimental as long-time admirers would wish it to be.
Xavier Dphrepaulezz’s 18-month rise from busking on the streets of Oakland to international acclaim masks a back story that includes a stint in the 90s as a major label R&B musician.
Reborn last year as Fantastic Negrito, playing “black music for everyone”, he began his ascent by winning NPR’s Tiny Desk video contest before raising his progfile further at the South By South West industry fest and having his song An Honest Man feature as the theme tune to the US TV drama Hand of God.
Now in his late 40s, Dphrepaulezz says he finally connected with the blues music of Lead Belly, Skip James and Muddy Waters after decades of personal hardship. “I had lived. I had failed,” he explained.
The last days of Oakland burns with an electrifying rawness and punk-like anger.
While Nirvana fans might recognise In The Pines it’s the groove and righteous indignation of songs such as The Worst and Rant Rushmore that demand closest attention.
“This is your life, there’s no tomorrow, it’s here, it’s now,” he growls. One of this year’s most powerful debut albums.
Uniting a legend of prog rock, Jon Anderson, formerly of Yes, with one of the genre’s best known contemporary practitioners, guitarist Roine Stolt, of The Flower Kings and Transatlantic, was the idea of InsideOut label boss Thomas Waber.
The pair came together to perform live on the Progressive Nation at Sea cruise that left Miami in 2014, and after that began sharing scraps of songs on the internet.
“It was like going back to the 70s in one way,” said Stolt, “because there were no rules. We were drawing inspiration from all sorts of musical heritages across the world.”
Fleshed out by member of The Flower Kings and others, their album Invention of Knowledge is divided into four “long-form musical journeys” with a strong sense of spirtual quest about them.
“We will not surrender to the victim inside, calling for our lives,” implores Anderson. “We are truth, made in heaven, we are glorious,” he sings with wide-eyed wonder over a pretty swirl of choral vocals and intricate keyboard and guitar.
Fans of either artist won’t be disappointed by this vividly realised record.
Grace Jones’ fourth album Warm Leatherette marked a musical progression from the show tunes and disco numbers that her dominated her early records. Out went high camp, in came a highly stylised mixture of reggae, funk and new wave which suited Jones’ haughty vocals down to the ground.
Her backing band for these – and her next two, even more popular albums, Nightclubbing and Living My Life, recorded at Compass Point, Nassau – was top notch, with a a rhythm section of Sly Dubar and Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou on keyboards, guitarists Mikey Chung and Barry Reynolds and percussionist Uziah Thompson.
In expert hands, The Normal’s JG Ballard-goes-electro number Warm Leatherette became sleek and sophisticated. Jones delivered The Pretenders’ Private Life with a sexy froideur; her blank interpretation of Love Is The Drug is another album highlight.
This deluxe reissue is spread across four LPs, two CDs or Blu Ray, and includes multiple extemded versions and previously unreleased renditions of Warm Leatherette’s eight tracks plus a reggae-fied reworking of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control that raises hairs on the back of the neck. A landmark recording.