At first they seemed farcical–their black-hole-dense, painfully slow slabs of crunge sounded like Black Sabbath at the wrong speed and Michael Gira’s guttural, grimly literal proclamations on rape and slavery like goth melodrama taken to a dead-end extreme, doomed to appeal only to the sort of chronic masturbators who can’t read enough about serial killers. Gira had one foot planted on either side of the abyss and had resolved to stare into it until it stared back into him. But when singer-keyboardist Jarboe added her sweet, ethereal tones to the Swans’ breakthrough 1987 double album Children of God, Gira’s personal apocalypse suddenly swept open to include the possibility of redemption, and ever since then they’ve ridden that purgatorial tension–through the majestic pop of The Burning World (1989) and White Light From the Mouth of Infinity (1991), on which Gira’s latent Leonard Cohen influence manifested itself, and the brutal exhilaration of their 1996 live albums Kill the Child and Real Love. Their latest album, Soundtracks for the Blind, is a sprawling, two-CD desertscape of gritty textures, odd found sounds, and manipulated noise that vacillates between meandering grind and eerie beauty–postpunk art songs for the damned. Designed to nail the lid on a 15-year career, it feels remarkably human, strangely awkward and unsure of itself as the band–now down to a core of just Gira and Jarboe–contemplates its history. Only coming from the Swans could a record this compelling and weird feel anticlimactic. But I’ll bet the performance won’t feel anticlimactic in the least. Windsor for the Derby open. Tuesday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160. MONICA KENDRICK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Vivianne Oh.