Swans
To Be Kind


5.0
classic

Review

by Gregor Sinclair USER (1 Reviews)
September 4th, 2014 | 70 replies


Release Date: 05/13/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Both musically and thematically, To Be Kind comes off as the culmination of Michael Gira's entire musical career and makes a worthy successor to the band's previous landmark record The Seer.

When considering frontman Michael Gira’s somewhat distressing description of his own childhood, it comes as little surprise that Swans’ position at the very forefront of experimental rock music has remained relatively consistent throughout their three-decade career – a claim which could hold little ground attributed to many other artists, if any. I mention Gira’s past only for the reason that a perception of humanity skewed to the point of incomprehension by a solitary life on the streets of Jerusalem lies at the very heart of Swans’ earliest works. It is only with To Be Kind, Swans’ latest studio effort released thirty-two years after their breakthrough Filth, that Gira fully comes to terms with his own life, and what it truly means to be human.

Following a baptism of fire among the brutal New York ‘no wave’ scene of the early 1980s, a series of critically-acclaimed records leading up to 1997’s seminal Soundtracks For The Blind and a thirteen-year hiatus, Swans returned to the post-rock scene with My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky and, more importantly, The Seer – the work with which To Be Kind was destined from conception to be forever compared. Upon first inspection the two are incredibly similar – both are two hours long; both feature a series of tracks built upon delicate texturing, mesmerising repetition and frankly uncomfortable vocal work; both revolve around a single half-hour piece at its core. They even share similar artwork.

And yet among To Be Kind’s greatest assets are the points where it differs most from The Seer. The album kicks off with ‘Screen Shot’, an eight-minute introductory track featuring a simple, repeated acoustic riff upon which layers of guitar, vocals and percussion are gradually built until ending in a swirling crescendo of noise-rock. Though similar in structure, the almost ‘funky’ tonal shifts of the guitar and vocals make the track a far cry from the beautifully monotonous cultish chanting of ‘Lunacy’, The Seer’s opener. The album continues with ‘Just A Little Boy’ – a more atmospheric piece reminiscent of ‘Mother Of The World’ and a prime example of the disjunction between the instrumentation of rock and post-rock – and ‘A Little God In My Hands’, the album’s lead single, whose jam-along bassline and sinister piano explore uncharted territory for the band.

‘Bring The Sun / Toussaint L’Ouverture’, however, is undoubtedly the centrepiece (and, perhaps, masterpiece) of the album. The fifteen-minute first part of the track progresses from a shockingly volatile opening through fields of rolling percussion and brutalised guitars to a breath-taking finale culminating in echoing chants and cries of ‘Bring the sun’, marking a career highpoint for the band. These chants fade away into a more atmospheric – but nonetheless gripping – second part to the piece titled after the eighteenth-century Haitian revolutionary. The numerous inseparable movements are here characterised by choruses of swirling, distorted guitars juxtaposed with moments of relative quiet, overlaid with sound effects.

The album’s second disc, amazingly, fails to disappoint on any account following the impressions of the first. ‘She Loves Us!’, though a lengthy (seventeen minute) reintroduction, carries the listener through a series of razor-sharp riffs and savage calls of ‘Your name is ***’ (an astute observation). Similarly, the jazzed-up guitars of ‘Oxygen’ and delicate-yet-powerful ascension of ‘Nathalie Neal’ continue to bear the album’s incredibly high standard. Though there are moments where, musically, a little momentum is lost (namely ‘Some Things We Do’ and ‘Kirsten Supine’), these moments feel both necessary and natural pauses; there is never a point at which the writing fails to impress, or astound.

Swans, like many other post-rock acts, are known for their use of vocals not to convey explicit meaning but instead much like another instrumental: to create tones, moods and atmospheres (hence the frequent use of gibberish in both this album and its predecessor). However, never before in a Swans record have Gira’s lyrics borne so great a significance. Though he begins the album looking to his own past (“I’m just a little boy / I’m not human”), his observations of humanity soon become universal – ‘Oxygen’ provides a grotesque analogy for the human condition (“Peel my skin / Scrape my vein / Break my bones / Feed me now / I’ll steal all the oxygen”), while ‘Some Things We Do’ reduces life on earth down to a menial list of chores (“We touch, we teach, we ***, we love”). Thus the relevance of the artwork, a series of children, humans in their purest form, untouched by the evils of the world, is revealed – what is it innately which makes us human? It is only with the arrival of the closing title track (which features some of Gira’s most poignant and passionate vocal work to date and a truly explosive finale) that we reach that conclusion that to be human is, ultimately, “to be kind”.


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Comments:Add a Comment 
YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


1675 Comments


wow, superb first review, dude. Really awesome job. I look forward to reading more from you.

ExplosiveOranges
September 4th 2014


3144 Comments


Holy fuck. What Matt said.

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Judio!
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


6268 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good review, but for next time you might want to work on that concluding paragraph. Your review sort of just stops at the end after you talk about the vocals and the artwork; it would have read 100% better if you had written a conclusion that was a summation of your thoughts and opinions. Still, nice work for your first!

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BMDrummer
September 4th 2014


8667 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

damn, good review

StallionMang
September 4th 2014


5825 Comments


Yeah especially for a first review this is truly impressive, great work

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bigguytoo9
September 4th 2014


259 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Good review, seeing them tomorrow night and I cant wait.

Ryus
September 4th 2014


3147 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

damn bro this rules boi, good album indeed

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jtswope
September 4th 2014


2365 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

We'll get along on Sput, you and I. Pos'd.

Let
September 4th 2014


356 Comments


Great review, I'll see them next week and I still haven't listened to this yet. Shame on me.

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Arcade
Contributing Reviewer
September 4th 2014


2901 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

album and review are fucking fantastic

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PistolPete
September 5th 2014


3627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is the "To Be Kind" review I was waiting for. Thank you, what a great read.

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deathschool
September 5th 2014


9004 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Damn son. Crazy good first review. I agree that this is Swans' best work.

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Wadlez
September 5th 2014


4310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Soundracks is the only one I really can stand to listen all the way through these days.

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Polyethylene
September 5th 2014


3159 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

that's ironic

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Wadlez
September 5th 2014


4310 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yea I know, I like the recent ones as well. Just can't be bothered really.

DominionMM1
September 5th 2014


10100 Comments


saw them the other night fuck it was loud

Gregorovich
September 6th 2014


1 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks guys, definitely one of my favourite albums. I'm not really sure what I'll do next. Thanks Judio for the feedback, I'll definitely work more on the conclusion in the next one.

zaruyache
September 7th 2014


6866 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

good first review. And this is the default review for this album. Wtf? lol

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Frippertronics
September 7th 2014


940 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I think there's a reason for that, because it was the user's first review. The whole flagging thing can get confusing at some points.

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deathschool
September 7th 2014


9004 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This deserves to be the default, forrealzz



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