The monstrous, long-running New York postpunk band Swans tore a hole in the universe with their last album, 2012’s monolithic and unrelenting The Seer, and they intend to follow it up this spring with their new album To Be Kind. “A Little God In My Hands,” the first of the album’s tracks that the band has shared, has the elemental power of their last two albums, but it also has a hint of an off-kilter art-pop sensibility; if you didn’t already know St. Vincent was a guest on the album, you might guess it from the squirmy horns and just-off rhythm. The band has also shared the six different covers for the album — a series of paintings of babies’ faces from the artist Bob Biggs, who owned both Slash magazine and Slash Records. Below, download the seven-minute “A Little God In My Hands” and check out the other five covers and some words on the cover art from Swans frontman Michael Gira.
I first met Bob Biggs in Los Angeles in 1976/77, through friends in the so-called punk scene there. He was a conceptual artist, but like everyone else with a brain, he was enthralled with the sudden and concussive events endemic to the rise of the beautifully scabrous punk explosion at the time. He was “outside” of it (as was I, in retrospect), but also in it, and had a sardonic view of it simultaneously. I distinctly remember him arriving at the infamous (genesis site of LA Punk) Masque Club, with a Semi Truck bearing a a fully grown, mucous-dripping cow, and leading it down a ramp into the club, where it ambled about, shat, and was then led out. I’m not certain what this was supposed to actually mean, but it was a delightful event, nevertheless.
Later, I was at the house of a friend (and a friend of Bob’s), and I noticed an unfathomable image on the wall. It was a pastel of one of the baby images we are now using as the art for the new Swans album. An uncanny visual cipher, and it stuck with me, all these years… I look at Bob’s baby images as something like the Mona Lisa—utterly inscrutable, but ACHING to reach up to the surface. Or like one of Jasper Johns’ flag paintings—I just can’t figure them out, but they keep calling me back.
I recall asking Bob in 1981 or so if I could use one of those baby images for a record, and he said, definitively, NO.
But those images have remained in the back of my head since then, always nagging. It seems they’re always calling me, calling, calling…?
I’m delighted that these images, finally with Bob’s consent, can now act as innocent, but implacable sentinels for the music of Swans, after all these years.??.. God Bless Bob Biggs…??
To Be Kind is out 5/13 on Young God.