Thursday, 1 July 2010

Michael Gira

An unflinching, uncompromising character, Michael Gira is best known as the founder of Young God Records and the leader of Swans, one of the most brutal, relentless and downright loud bands to ever exist. Musical legend tells of the walls of venues quaking as they cranked up the volume of their early live sets in the 1980s, and of fans vomiting as the sheer noise pummeled their organs. Definitely an acquired taste, Swans are justly infamous for their music, but Gira also masterminded the artwork for all their releases over the years, which deserves recognition in its own right. Simple, stark and powerful, it reflected the bleakness and brutality of the band's music and has stood the test of time as a great example of band identity and sleeve design. Using large sans serif typeface and slabs or bands of colour, coupled with simple, iconic symbolism, Gira, together with Paul White of Me Company in the early years, created an aesthetic which he has carried through his twenty-plus years of music. After folding Swans, Gira took this pared down identity to his next band, The Angels Of Light. There's a recognisable evolution to the design over the years, which leaves you in no doubt who is behind the music
Not all of the sleeves were effective, but shown below, in vaguely chronological but by no means complete order, are some of the standouts. Such consistency over so many years makes for one of the strongest bodies of album artwork of the last few decades.
For all his cynicism and bleakness, Gira is not averse to the odd bit of wry humour, the lyrics of his songs occasionally raising a smile, as do the sleeves to Feel Good Now or the strange rabbit-men on the Love Of Life and White Light... covers. He recently announced he is restarting Swans since he longs to be subsumed by noise once more, so it will be interesting to see how the art and identity of the new album appear.

Swans, 1984

Cop, 1984

A Screw, 1986

Greed, 1986

Greed, reverse, 1986

Holy Money, 1986

Holy Money, reverse, 1986

Public Castration Is A Good Idea, 1986

New Mind, 1987

New Mind, reverse, 1987

Feel Good Now, 1989

White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity, 1991

Love Of Life, 1992

Celebrity Lifestyle, 1994

The Great Annihilator, 1995

Filth/Body To Body, Job To Job CD reissue, 2000

Filth/Body To Body, Job To Job CD reissue, reverse, 2000

Swans Are Dead, 1998

Swans Are Dead, reverse, 1998

Children Of God/World Of Skin CD reissue, 1997

Soundtracks For The Blind, 1996

New Mother, 1999

How I Loved You, 2001

Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, 2003

Praise Your Name, 1999

A portrait of Gira on the reverse of Praise Your Name, 1999

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