skin blood women roses
This genre defying masterpiece was recorded in 1986 and released the following year when the Swans’ milestone album “Children of God” appeared. Classical musicians and instruments like violin, cello, viola and double bass are employed along with elegant string arrangements, exquisite keyboard playing and piano in multiple modes.
Mystery and mourning pervade these mainly experimental art songs with a bluesy hue, most of them in Jarboe’s avant-garde torch idiom. Swans fans familiar with the Children Of God album will recognize the style in classics like ‘Blackmail’, ‘Blood and Honey’ and ‘In My Garden.’
The intricate and predominantly eerie arrangements portray scenarios of grief and loss on laments like ‘We’ll Fall Apart’ and ‘My Own Hands’ or imply them on the glacial rendition of ‘Cry Me A River’ and the somber interpretation of ‘Man I Love’, even undermining the love lyric of ‘Red Rose’ with a sense of dread.
Ominous undercurrents move through swirling iridescence towards a cornucopia of solo soprano and contralto, atmospheric choirs and dreamy recitals with sighs and whispers. Tensions arise through contrast, like the seemingly reassuring chant of a sinister rhyme on ‘Blood On Your Hands’ or doom laden piano chords disrupting silvery showers of tinkling bells on ‘Red Rose.’
Two songs are markedly different, one in both mood and music and the other in musical form only. The aforementioned ‘Blood On Your Hands’ is a ritualistic lullaby accompanied by drums and handclaps, while ‘Come Out’ packs a punch of sarcasm with hilarious braggadocio.
The album’s masterpiece is the mystical hymn ‘One Thousand Years’ whose rarefied texture is woven of cello, double bass, viola, violin and shimmering strings. The orchestration aligns in sublime symmetry with the lattice of voices as Jarboe sings and speaks of secrets in tones of wistful melancholia.