Review Summary: I'm just a little boy!
In typical fashion, the hype for To Be Kind
has been unbelievable over the last few months. A leak (an extremely poor one to say the least) has come and gone, and at last, the album has finally arrived. When it was announced that it would be another two hour long behemoth of an album, many had doubts that it could possibly approach the extreme heights that its predecessor, The Seer
, had scaled merely two years earlier.. But upon first listen, it is only another Swans album, and doesn't bear much resemblance to its predecessor except in length. To Be Kind
is something to beware, to approach with caution if you are only accustomed to its predecessor.
If you were expecting more chanting and atmospheric drones, you are quite mistaken. Instead, the album’s opener Screen Shot
starts off with a driven percussion section and a simplistic guitar riff accompanied by Michael Gira’s familiar smooth but robust vocal delivery. Slowly and menacingly, the track builds up further and further with more audible sections coming in to add to the main spectacle. Whereas on The Seer
which was filled to the brim with tribal-like sections that dominated the album, they take the side-stage on here. To be replaced by what? Gone are the drones in favor of an ominous atmosphere and rather ambient segments that take the helm of To Be Kind
, in such tracks as Just a Little Boy
and Nathalie Neal
. The influence of Pink Floyd’s Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun
and many blues musicians can be heard on both tracks.
On about every Swans LP, from Public Castration is a Good Idea
to Soundtracks for the Blind
, there is always a challenge awaiting the listener in how much they can withstand and little musical bits and pieces that exceed the standard of many others. On the former, it was a battle of noise and violent feedback, the latter was not only the length, but the highly diverse genres included in the album which included simple drone pieces to intricate electronic tracks. Here, the battle is once again in the way the songs are structured and how they are performed. On She Loves Us
and A Little God in My Hands
, both start unusually, with a driving beat to the former and a fiercely relaxed rhythm section in the latter. Both have the typical Gira vocal performances, with lyrics like:
Your name is f
and the simplistic Oh sucking lung: we’ll never come/forever loving, forever waiting/oh yeah oh yeah/the universal mind
Both tracks eventually end in the way Swans usually ends their songs, either with a bang or a weakening fadeaway that gives way to the next piece of the puzzle.
With a unique rhythm and blues flavour, Oxygen
harkens back to the olden no-wave days of Filth
and Holy Money
, where brutality reigned supreme in Swans’ repertoire. With the cries of the namesake, the track is unrelenting at the very start and doesn’t let up for one single second. Not once will you get a breather, and while at the mercy of Michael Gira, you’ll be struggling for oxygen. The vibe that is given off besides the nostalgic no-wave Swans sound is the throbs of industrial music such as Ministry, which only adds to the power of the track. But at once, it stops. Gira gives one of his most stunning vocal deliveries, building up the tension with his simplistic, but powerful lyrics. The cry of Feed me now!
brings the whole thing descending into chaos taking over as a brass section comes to prominence as Gira continues his cries:
Hey there/Mr. Skull/I’m not scared of your cull/Oxygen: Amen!
The anguished rage at last comes to a standstill and takes its final gasps, each final one a swift kick to the solar plexus and a deep stab wound in the heart before the brutal assault ends.
The crown jewel in To Be Kind
without a doubt, is the thirty-five minute epic Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture
At first look, it seems as Michael Gira just doesn’t know when to stop with the obnoxiously long songs, but once the track begins, it quickly lures you in with the alluring atmosphere reminiscent once again of Pink Floyd and other ambient artists. The buildup is flawless, starting with Gira murmuring, eventually shouting the namesake as done earlier in Oxygen
. But as the second half of the suite, Toussaint L’Ouverture
emerges from the chants, everything comes to a halt. It is as if the whole first half never existed, with the tale of Toussaint L’Ouverture dimishing everything that came before it. Born as a slave, L’Ouverture led the Haitian revolution against the French before being sent to prison and subsequently dying there. Gira somehow adds the mystique of Swans to the old tale and for dramatic effect, cries out:
An unfortunate dilemma with the second half is that is just falls flat not long after its climax, trudging along for a few minutes before somehow recapturing the listener’s interest. But by then, the track is nearing its end.
To Be Kind
is not just an exercise in futility, but in durability as well. It tests the listener with all of its will, and holds them at its mercy for two hours straight. In all honesty, it’s magnificent how Swans is able to release two top-tier albums in the span of two years, especially when they total 4+ hours. It’s no easy feat to say the least. A undeniable candidate for the album of the year, To Be Kind
is worthy of the Swans name. It irons out the weaknesses found in The Seer
and My Father…
, and strengthens upon the aspects of the respective albums. To be kind, keep it up you guys.
A Little God in My Hands
Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture
She Loves Us