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Swans - To Be Kind CD (album) cover

TO BE KIND

Swans

 

Post Rock/Math rock

3.94 | 198 ratings

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Aldebaran_Well
5 stars Swans deliver their strange and unique art since 1983, having gained a place amongst the most important avant garde rock artist of all time. They have widely influenced countless great bands, ranging from Neurosis to Portishead, always enjoying the utmost respect from artists and critics but, somehow, since their reform in 2010, people also show a more massive interest in their work. Their 2012 ''The Seer'' album had a tremendous feedback, featuring in numerous top lists of the year. For reasons I can't guess, the world of music seems at last ready for the Swans' vision. Just one listen is enough to make me wonder how that's even possible. You see, from many aspects, this music is as extreme and elitistic as it gets.

''To be kind'' steps on the same road as ''The seer'': the same 2 hour long odyssey, theatrically set around the dominating personality of the singer, composer, leader, producer, mastermind Michael Gira. By him stands a full cast of 12 guest musicians, all exquisite experimental artists, performing a wide range of instruments and his 5 bandmates, obviously of the same charismatic/deranged nature. Gira himself certainly sounds like an actor who's constantly changing roles, those of a philosopher, a preacher, a shaman, or a madman and the music is built around his breathtaking performances. A bigger than life persona that no ink can describe.

The music of Swans is impossible to be categorized. On the surface of things, there are elements of noise, industrial, folk, punk, post, psych, drone, rock, jazz, dark wave etc. All these are just words that we have all created to communicate and put boundaries on things, only words. Swans don't fit inside these words, they stand way beyond genres, unlimited and transcendental. Sound is only the medium and it doesn't matter much really. It's all about feelings, mind and soul states. I can't tell what Swans sound like but I can tell you what it feels like. It feels like one is diving into the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean, alone, in a moonless night. Or like opening a mental gate to the unknown. The listener must realize that once this gate is opened, he enters at his own risk. If I tried to describe the ''songwriting'' patterns, I'd say that every song is an independent ride and that it feels like a ritual. Stepping into the circle, one discovers linear compositions, straightly structured and monotonous. All frequencies/instruments are not used to enrich music harmonically but to build tensions and moods to the point of colossal crescendos. The way music evolves will make you wonder whether time and sound actually move or stand still. You may often feel like suffocating inside compositions that seemingly never end and when they finally do, you'll probably want more.

A very brief insight on the album tracks. Disc 1, total running time of 67 minutes. ''Screen shots'' kicks off the album with a hypnotizing Tool on drugs like riff, impressively crafted drum and percussion grooves that form a blurred industrial rites of passage, without ever relieving tension. ''Just a little boy'' is an anthem of twisted, stoned Americana that could perfectly fit to David Lunch's nightmares on films like Inland Empire. The ''Oh my God'' guitars in the final part sound heavier than a whole planet. ''A little God in my hands'' is surprisingly straight, a tune that could have been composed by Marilyn Manson (if he was a genius). The song is very energetic, there is a glimpse of melody but then brass instruments step in, producing a delirium of noise. At the end of the song, don't imagine the guitarist smashing down his guitar. It might just as well be the trombone player. Now, even a poet wouldn't find the right words for the 34 minutes long ''Bring the sun/Toussaint l'Ouverture'', which is the heart and the absolute highlight of the whole album. This is a song so huge, it almost sounds biblical. ''Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite'' cries a completely out of control Gira in the second part and the band sounds capable of swallowing the whole universe. No right words. After that, they wisely decide to end the first disc with ''Some things we do'', a quite calm and sarcastic comment on human nature, based on abstract strings and the additional female voice of Little Annie.

Disc 2, total running time 55 minutes. ''She loves us!'' is a 17 minutes epic with a very naturalistic, religious touch on it. It has a tribal character with fantastic percussion and a strong scent of improvisation, while Michael's howling vocals and the up tempo groove make it sound like an ecstatic prayer. The beautiful ''Kirsten Supine'' is melodic in comparison, you can almost sing along and it contains a wonderful climax. ''Oxygen'' is another surprise, it begins with nu rock attitude, evolves aggressively and ends with the presence of brass, in a distorted jazz atmosphere. ''Nathalie Neal'' is next in line, changing the mood again. In this track you'll find many ethnic elements, it's very straight and you can practically dance to it. The second part of the song offers the enjoyment of acoustic guitars in a very atmospheric psych finale which is preserved on the album's title track and closing song: ''To be kind'' is a magnificent tune, ambient and folk walk hand in hand until the explosive, destructive end where all energy is finally spent.

Famous Greek writer, Nick Kazantzakis (highly recommended) used to say that the human soul is simultaneously making two oppositional movements: one upwards is aiming to the sky, immortality and high ideals and one movement downwards, to the earth, to death, corruption and decay. The music of Swans feels like ever descending. It's decadent and appeals to the darkest instincts but can be majestic at the same time. It can be animalistic and sexy, depressive and grandiose. It's the musical equivalent to Lynch or even Pasolini films, de Sade's poetry or Bacon's paintings.

According to my rating system, this is a 94/100 album, so I have to give it five stars. That does not mean I recommend it to all progsters. In fact, a prog fan can find it equally awkward to a pop, rock or blues fan. This is not prog. This is rewarding avant garde music which somehow finds the way to be part of the wider pop/rock culture.

Gira once said about his band's name that ''Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures. With really ugly temperaments.'' Well, you can be sure that these are by far the ugliest and more majestic swans you will ever meet!

Aldebaran_Well | 5/5 |

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