Swans – Beggar (Mute/Young God) Album Review


SWANS, the formidable American group formed in the early 1980s, that survived the No Wave label, have reinvented themselves multiple times.

As the stalwart of the band (and last original member), Michael Gira has increasingly taken full control of the reins, (not just the lyrics) and perhaps enters yet another chapter of SWANS with the release of Beggar.

Since 1986 SWANS recordings have featured Jarboe, from screams to singing, and it seems Beggar may be the marker album that sees her no longer part of the collective (hopefully I’ll be proved wrong) Beggar also see SWANS stripped back in contributing personnel, to a core, a select few compared to the previous four albums. 


Beggar is sonically a dark album. Gone are many of the tonal-rich piano/keyboard and guitar melodies, in their place and to the forefront are macabre supporting vocal harmonies (which are missing Jarboe’s input) Songs vary in length from over 11mins to a comfortable three and half minutes. 

Beggar is difficult, like a novel that needs to be read slowly. It is quiet in places, beautifully enthralling, there are crescendos, walls of noise and repetition, then again gothic-folk rhythms are also to be found. Lyrically Michael Gira is on a journey of self-reflection, he is moody, inward-looking and full of existential questions.

Other reviewers have referenced Velvet Underground and Joy Division, but the ethereal emotion of Beggar begs (titan(ic) depth. Michael Gira has taken SWANS out deep(er)into the black forests, inhabited by artists like neo-folkists Death In June, post-VU singer Rowland S Howard and industrial texturists Zoviet France.

Beggar was preceded by two digital singles, a long one, at almost 10 mins: Paradise Is Mine and the radio-friendly one: Los Angeles: City Of Death at 3.29, listen to these two first. Beggar  is available in three formats, if you are a glutton for punishment, then go digital or CD and you’ll get the 121-minute version of Beggar courtesy of a 44-odd-minute ‘bonus’ track.  

I think Beggar is one the most wonderful albums I’ve heard in many a year.


Simon Coffey


Simon Coffey