© 1995
THE WIRE Oct. 1995


M Gira – Drainland
Jarboe – Sacrificial Cake

Down the years and despite the growth, the stylistic permutations and the occassionnal aberrations into something resembling warmth. Swans have been such a single-minded project you have to wonder why its perpetrator Michael Gira would need to make a solo album. Granted, you can see how Jarboe needs space elsewhere to express ideas that fall outside Gira’s scheme of things. The great success of these Swans Related Projects is how they return to the scenes of Swans crimes, so to speak and light them up differently, and then again entirely different from each other.

Aptly titled, Gira’s Drainland is drained of blood, tears and excess emotion. It’s songs are autopsies, body parts laid out on the mortican’s slab and spoken-sung in bleak monotone. Well, Gira has always been the most Beckett-like of songwriters. Interlocking word and image in a manner that superficially suggests simple body mechanics – skull connected to your neckbone, etc. Yet the accumulative impact of bare-boned lines dovetailed with equally pared rhythm and melody and muscle-toned with sparse noise samples is emotionally devastating. This is a document of base drives. It could be subtitled “Death Is My Trade”. It’s an ugly business, but not without it’s grotesque, Ambrose Bierce-like humour. An opening taped dialogue featuring Jarboe and Michael is so naked it has you reaching for the Iight switch.

The first thing to be said about Jarboe’s record is that now she’s dropped the breathy torch effect, she’s singing better than ever. When she wants to she can outshriek Hole and Babes In Toyland both. But she’s strongest when letting up the pace to spin voluptuous, dark-forest electronic fairy tales full of seemingly innocent come-ons and, invariably, deadly pay-offs. If Gira’s songs might be singing of the chlld murdered within him long ago, Jarboe sings out for every murdered child buried in a shallow grave. Across these two records the terror rarely lets up. Highly recommended, but cheap thrill seekers are advised to back off.

BIBA KOPF – The Wire

© 1995


Swans Related Project: Jarboe
Sacrificial Cake (Alternative Tentacles)
Swans Related Project: M. Gira
Drainland (Alternative Tentacles)

After nearly a decade and a half of turning inner turmoil into cathartic wastelands of tortured sound, Swans gurus Michael Gira and Jarbae have embarked on two new solo ventures: Sacrificial Cake marks Jarboe’s third outing as a lone leader; Drainland is M. Gira’s debut. Both discs fuse sex, violence, and considerable nihilism with the kind of disturbing intensity expected from a ‘Swans Related Project.”

Amid trenchant layers of shimmering guitar and swampy synthetics, Gira explores the self-delusion of alcoholic detachment.

Drainland kicks off with “You see through me,” a verite-sounding taped encounter in which Jarboe confronts Gira with her anxiety about his “drinking too much.” Gira argues that it’s “your problem, not mine.” and that she must now “support” his alcoholism: “Shut your mouth and get some money.” The release closes with “Blind,” Gira’s acknowledgement of his “self-deception” and a plea for pity “Because when we’re drinking/ We can never be filled.” He intones, “When I look in the mirror/ I feel dead/ I feel cold / I am blind.” Bloody images of “pleasure-pain and fear and hatred” weave through these soundtracks to chilling effect.

Jarboe’s Sacrifcial offering is not as emotionally raw and tragic as Gira’s opus, even if similarly nightmarish visions sweep the listener into a hypnotic haze of keyboards and synthetic beats. Too often, the vocals assume an affected vibe that renders the production sterile and sometimes silly. The strained sensuality and whispered didacticism of tunes like “Not Logical” (“Open your mind/ Sensational, metaphysical, insatiable … Open your mind! Heterosexual, astrological”) come off as ambient rhymes for the black-light crowd. Jarboe’s quasi-steamy Iyrics on “Surgical Savior” may get a rise out of a suburban 13-year-old, but they leave me cold: “I will open you! Make you feel / Through me you know/ Desire is real.”

Ugly Swans “Goddamn the sun,” Michael Gira of Swans groans on one of the group’s softer, prettier numbers; “Time Is Money (Bastard),’ proclaims one of the torturously noisy songs for which his group is better known. Whether they’re strumming sweet melodies on acoustic guitars or banging large metallic objects together, Gira and dulcet-toned partner Jarboe turn sunshine into something sinister.

© 1995


Swans Related Project Product
M. Gira – Drainland
Jarboe – Sacrificial Cake

Let’s get one thing straight. These LPs will not be bad. It is impossible for Gira to do anything remotely resembling a failure (apart from his immense song of the same name!). His solo offering should easily be a Swans LP on it’s own. The spacious almost choral backing is there in force, and the deep, deep vocals brood over the top. Some of the tracks seem to harken back to the more industrial era of Swans, particularly track 3, ‘I see them all lined up,’ but this adds variety to what is a huge album Jarboe’s LP is probably more pretty, but weirder. To hear her enchanting voice whisper about gribbly goblins and mushroom men as you fall asleep at night is nothing short of begging for a night of nightmare lunacy. She has moments of pure beauty, ‘My Buried Child’ and pure horror, ‘The Body Lover.’ These contrasting emotions all add up in both cases to 2 extraordinary albums each of matching brilliance. Worth stealing from a friend for.

© 1995


GIRA : Drainland
JARBOE : Sacrificial Cake
Alternative Tentacles

To simply describe the recent incarnation of Swans as a bit dark and moody is like saying Quentin Tarantino makes films that are mildly aggressive.

For the most part, M. Gira is Swans. Since 1982, Gira’s reign has spawned a body of work spanning an array of styles: punk, goth, noise and dance. Over the years, he has also been joined by a rogues gallery of musicans including Jim Thirwell (Foetus), Anlon Fier (Golden Palominos) and members of Prong. His main collaborator for the past few Swans albums is singer, Iyricist, and queen of assorted noises, Jarboe. Together, she and Gira have produced some of the best and most brooding titles in the Swans’ catalog: White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity, The World of Skin, Love of Life, and The Greal Annihilator.

On individual releases titled Swans Related Project, Jarboe and M. Gira present two different albums that reflect each of their personalities. Even though they swap guest appearances, these two albums possess distinct identities.

M. Gira’s Drainland is a musical walk through a New Orleans cemetery on a rainy All Saint’s Eve. As the sun sets, the lost souls, who were the victims of this life, reach up from their burial places and pull the listener, by Ihe ankles, down into a grave which opens up into the bowels of hell. Once in the fiery pit, murderous demons claw at your spirit in hopes of ripping a from your body. To put a quite bluntly, M. Gira could give Clive Barker a few restless nights. Even in the most uplifing of Gira’s songs, “Blind,” the scent of death still lingers in the air.

Jarboe’s Sacrificial Cake also sends you falling into the afterlife, but this time you never land. Caught between heaven and hell, the different sides of Jarboe tug at your soul. Choirs of angels sent from above guide you to the light on “Lavender Girl,” ”Not Logical” and “Spiral Staircase.” Before you can reach tranquility, demons poke pitckforks at you to see if you flinch . With “My Buried Child,” you get a glimpse of hell, and by the time you reach “Yum Yab” and “Surgical Savior,” you’re tasting the sweat dripping off of Satan’s tongue. But unlike Gira, Jarboe never decides what to do with your soul — on “Troll,” Jarboe sings, “I am the light, I am the dark.”

On the other hand, Gira knows exaclly what to do with the soul: burn, baby, burn.

Caldwell Noble

© 1995
The Big Issue July 25, 1995


“New Releases” by Rob Mitchell
Jarboe, Sacrificial Cake (Young God)

A new solo album arrives from the other half of Swans too. Jarboe is perceived as playing second fiddle to Gira and, I’m afraid, Sacrificial Cake does little to redress the balance. It starts intriguingly enough. “Lavender Girl” has chants, echoes and a beat which only ever manages four pulses before fading away. Jarboe’s voice is rich and vaporous here as on the steamy, tropical “Ode to V” with its bass drones and loose-limbed eastern percussion. The metallic pipe breaths and eery strings in “Shimmer 1” are ghostly; as the beat fades in and out overlapping church-organ sound on “Not Logical,” the brew of disembodied elements begins to make sense. Sadly from here on in things take a turn for the worst. The album runs out of tricks and starts to sound like a drab version of Cocteau Twins at their darkest. Lyrically, out host turns to Middle Earthisms (“Troll Lullaby”) and gothic averload (“The Body Lover”). “Deflowered” stands clear, its out of character take on Bunnymen Beat-pop is pretty good, but by “Shimmer 2,” there have been too many Jabberwockys, too many medieval vocals and too little of tangible worth. The record finishes in a welter of troll-eating sounds, having created an appetite it could not satisfy.