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5 stars 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 [%*!#]! Halleluiah 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:

Toussaint! L'Ouverture!

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.


Screen Shot A Little God in My Hands Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture She Loves Us Oxygen

Report this review (#1170463)
Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Definitely a step on from "The Seer" and "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope In The Sky", but not entirely to my liking. I love the more overblown structures and durations of each piece, but it can become very easy to lose interest in something like the 34 minute "Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Overture". You really need to be prepared to be in the right mood to listen to this album, even more so than any other Swans record, to be honest.

The band has mastered their new signature sound now, and Gira and co are employing it excellently with ingenious pieces of loosely improvised material, that are sort of illusively maintained by hard-hitting percussion/guitars for 2 everlasting hours. I can totally understand how this album fatigues listeners, but you really can't fault a band for being this ambitious. Somehow, they've found a way to push the musical boundaries at a time when it appears so much has been done with rock. I think a little bit of blind luck came into play here though.

I suppose "To Be Kind" has a consistently mediocre, minimalist backing built up of repetitive, aggressive beats and lyrics. Occasionally, this is stricken down to the bare bone or better still takes a completely unexpected turn - the obvious example being the absolute euphoric cacophony of brass on "A Little God In My Hands". Definitely the most uplifting, and probably greatest moment on the album. Elements of minimalism are ever-present, with the hypnotic "poetry" and world-shaking stagnant harmonies. There are still some reassuring echoes of post-rock and the band's industrial feel throughout.

All in all, a primal attack on your ears. A mixture of potentially terrifying to enlightening sounds, with practically no middle ground. On the other hand, they've definitely found a tipping point in their music, in discarding any delicate underlying essences from "The Seer" and replacing them with more brutality. Glad to see this at the #1 spot on the 2014 podium on RYM, even if there are better albums out there.

B(-): A classic Swans record - primal, exhausted, and healing.

Screen Shot: **** Just A Little Boy: **** A Little God In My Hands: ***** Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Overture: **** Some Things We Do: **** She Loves Us: **** Kirsten Supine: **** Oxygen: ***** Nathalie Neal: **** To Be Kind: ****

Report this review (#1172398)
Posted Wednesday, May 7, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Something spectacular has happened with Swans. Something I would never have thought possible from a 60 year old bloke.

Those 14 years of retirement seem to have unleashed an uncontrollable monster. I was one of of the gang that lapped up 1996's 'Soundtracks for the Blind' believing it to be the perfect sendoff album, where every tune sounded like it would be the last tune they'd ever record. The intervening years were made up with wishy washy folkish nonentities, before the disappointing 'My Father Will Guide me up a Rope to Heaven' appeared out of nowhere to be followed by the excellent 'Seer' from 2012.

Then along comes this beast...

Happily I can say that 'To Be Kind' is superior to 'the Seer'. Whilst not the most tuneful of albums it's one of the most continually intense discs I've ever heard. More so than noise bands like 'Merzbow' and 'Whitehouse' who's intensity and aggression lead nowhere. This is more progressive and structured. The repetition of a one chord note is repeated over and over, with layer heaped upon layer, block on block building to a noisy, deafening crescendo on each track. It's almost like the sound of rivets being hammered into a battleship. Raw, loud, disturbing and with few electronic effects. This is, however, not your usual guitar, drum, bass and vocal album.

On 'To Be Kind' Gira is far more shouty and gruff than on the 'Seer' replete with profanities which sound fabulous in their authenticity. This is one seriously pissed off album folks.

'Just a Little Boy' sounds almost 'Captain Beefheart', bluesy but in a real dirty heavy way. Some of this reminds me of David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' film - that scene in the bar - cowboy hats, women, booze and all that. There's a memorable line in here where Gira screeches the words "I need looooovvve' only to be met with mocking laughter in surround sound stereo. Scary Monsters!

The highlight of 'To Be Kind' is the gargantuan 34 minute epic 'Bring the Sun ' which has many elements of '84's 'Cop', and 87''s 'Children of God' within. Similarities with 'Godspeed you Black Emperor' can also be traced - this however is far heavier in execution. After the monstrous build up a lot of weird effects occur at 17 mins. It's particularly disturbing as it appears to be close up microphone recordings of horses in distress. Absolute mayhem involving guitars , drum and bass breaks forth before a beautiful segment of quiet vibraphone plays. Then it's heads down again. Batten down the hatches for the next assault which takes us through 'Glenn Branca' territory. A caterwauling demented Gira spouts off some French stuff at maximum volume as drums smash and clatter at various points throughout the next ten minutes. I'm sure I can hear Stuka aircraft in there towards the end. This one track is longer than the whole of 'Pet Sounds' by the Beach Boys!

'She Loves us' clocks in at a hefty 17 mins and does that repetitive bass, guitar thing again but is driven by Gira's vocals which are screamed more than sung - like he's got a mouthful of cement whilst having a tourettes syndrome fit. A pulverising tune which crushes all in its path.

'Kirsten Supine' thankfully has a gentle and somewhat tuneful first 7 mins after what's gone before. thereafter it takes a real nasty turn with pounding drums, bass and guitar squeals and groans.

'Oxygen' is my personal favourite on this album. A very odd, hard drumbeat, crunches and bangs in amongst Gira's aggressive gutteral vocals. This sounds like it belongs on 83's 'Filth' A superbly violent track that would get you up over the trenches in Verdun in 1916 quick time.

I hear some good old fashioned Oberheim 70's keyboards at the start of the final track 'To Be Kind' The nice, quiet intro includes the creepy vocal delivery 'There are millions and millions of stars in yourrrrrrrr eyes' before setting up the grand finale where everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in at once for one very noisy ending.

For the sheer audacity and without a care as to what the masses want to hear I have to give this a five star rating. Other than 'Killing Joke' I can't think of another band who have continually bettered themselves in such a dramatic and important way after such a long periods of inactivity.

Swans have had a career in reverse. All plaudits and recognition coming after 30 years of toil and hardship. The best has clearly been saved to last. Out of their entire discography this is the best Swans album I've heard... hands down... no doubts.

Report this review (#1179226)
Posted Sunday, May 25, 2014 | Review Permalink
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!

Report this review (#1179351)
Posted Monday, May 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Swans are a band that I've let fly past me these past few years. Now don't blame me personally, it's just I have a mixed opinion about Pitchfork relate artists or hipster worthy bands (sometimes they are a bit too much style and not enough music). So after all this time, I have decided to give this band a chance. And of course, I'm glad I have.

If I had to describe this band to anyone, the best way to sum them up would be if The Velvet Underground where to jam with Captain Beefheart and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The band also have a rather Pixies take to their music, with a big focus on the loud and quiet dynamic of their music. The band have a brilliant ability of being able to take minimalist riffs and ideas, yet building upon them into big climaxes or to something completely different entirely.

While the album is mainly music, one thing I really love about this album is that the lyrics are very simple and almost mono syllabic at times. While the songs titles and music already paint a picture in your head, the lyrics are almost their to portray instantaneous emotions rather than telling actual stories.

The opening track "Screen Shot" is a brilliant example of what the band can do. With a soft start and a climactic build up, the soft to hard style of the bands classic stuff is shown. Brilliant start to the album.

"A Little God In My Hands" is another personal favorite of mine. The best way to describe this song is if the Pixies where to jam with Captain Beefheart and Current 93. A brilliant track with some absolutely brilliant vocals from Michael, showing off some insane vocals.

The album's longest track and the bands longest song to date, "Bring The Sun/Touissant L'Ouverture" is a massive piece of music. A multi layered and multi parted track, the song goes through a lot of different feelings and emotions. Starting off with a post metal opening and going into a psychedelic jam, it then explodes into a noisy chasm and then moves into a slow jam with Michael shouting and raving in both French and Spanish. Now, being over a half an hour long, I do believe that this song is pushing it a little bit, but I still think the experience of this track is a rollercoaster that is an interesting experience nontheless.

The album's second longest track "She Loves Us" is another interesting moment on the album. The song being rather slow in nature at first, it then explodes into a sonic wall with Michael screaming over the music with overly sexual suggested lyrics. Mad as a hatter, but it perfectly fits with the chaotic nature of the album.

One of my personal favorite tracks on the album has to be "Kirsten Supine." Taking influence from Lars Von Trier's film "Melancholia", the song shows of some rather delicate yet explosive sounds, very much like the film it was inspired by.

My favorite track on the album has to be "Oxygen." With a mad mash of different rhythms throughout and some incredibly insane vocals from Michael. For some reason I am getting a Smashing Pumpkins vibe from this track, especially with the breakdowns with only vocals and drums.

The title track which ends off the album is an interesting anti folk influenced sonic build up. Some lovely instrumental work on this track showing off some of Swans instrumental technique, before becoming more dark and twisted near the end of the track.

In conclusion, this album shows off the bands styles and sounds in ways which have bettered their previous releases. While some songs may be a bit too lengthy and outstay their welcome a tad too much,, you can't deny that journey that some of these tracks take you on. A good example of a long double album not being exceedingly boring. These guys will always excite.


Genres: Experimental Rock, Noise Rock, Avant Garde Rock, RIO, Post Metal, Avant Garde Metal, Post Rock, Anti Folk, Art Rock, Progressive Rock

Country of origin: USA

Year of release: 2014

Report this review (#1182330)
Posted Monday, June 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Swans is one of the darkest band i've ever heard. The band was a post-punk band before, but turned into a post-rock band. They released masterpieces like Children Of God, Soundtracks For The Blind, White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity, and in 2012, The Seer. Their post-rock sound is between Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Joy Division. Interesting. As I said before, The Seer was an excellent post-rock release, so I was waiting for To Be Kind. It worth the waiting. To Be Kind is an excellent double album, and one of the best post-rock release that i've ever head. A post-rock masterpiece, without any doubt. It's powerful, dark, intense, well composed... The highlights are A Little God In My Hands, the 34-minutes epic Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture, the opening Screen Shot and Oxygen. A difficult album, but really awesome. If you like GY!BE, Mogwai, or Joy Division, Swans are for you.
Report this review (#1198961)
Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Album of the year 2014, Michael Gira has once again led his legendary band Swans through the making of a masterpiece, and another in the vein of "Soundtracks For The Blind" and "The Seer" specifically. "To Be Kind" mainly hinges on Gira having not forgotten the power of brutal drums and bass from the early days of the band, slumming around New York City playing their industrial-via-No Wave to often less than receptive audiences in self imposed sweat loges, while vehemently hating the other No Wave bands for admittedly no apparent reason. Here, this sonic brutality is sent through the ringer of the epic, dark, horrifying, and varied take on post rock the band and most of Gira's side projects have been doing since "Soundtracks", in the early days of the genre. Right from the throbbing bass that opens the opener, it is clear that perfection was achieved once more. The double track "Bring the Sun"/"Toussaint L'Ouverture" is the centrepoint of the opus, with the former a powerful and epic piece of drumwork, leading into the crazed darkness of the latter. This is followed with "Some Things We Do", a great closer for CD1 and what some commercials I've seen would sound like if done in a dystopia. CD2 is no slacker, either, with "She Loves Us" an excellent example of post rock done by way of Aphrodite's Child's "The Capture of The Beast", ever strange and seemingly crawling with chains. And "Oxygen" proves a surprisingly good track; there is a reason, after all, it has gotten a single release with several remixes of itself. The vocals of Gira and the supporting chorus just make this album, in the end, more than the instrumentation. Swans just continue their run of outstanding experimental albums, crafting a top release of this year, of all post rock, of all their own records. And this beast shows no signs of stopping. Their future, and so ours, is bright and unpredictable.
Report this review (#1320800)
Posted Saturday, December 6, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the first album I've heard from Swans, and it certainly won't be the last. What makes it so fantastic is not just the content but the consistency- for me, a long album is a dicy prospect- but the way in which Swans manages to make these two hours so continually intense and captivating, with not a single dip in quality, is frankly incredible and something very, very few other bands could do.

Swans are listed under Post Rock, which is fair, but this isn't your grandma's post rock- it's raw, aggressive, primal, from the quiet delicate sections of the first half of 'Kirsten Supine' to the roaring, abrasive 'Oxygen'. The mix is clear, but raw and punchy, and balances the soundscapes with the attacks of the band. The rhythm section is incredibly motoric and driving, the guitars loud, and Michael Gira delivers real guts to the varying emotions of the vocals. The centrepiece, of course, is the the half-hour long, 'Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture', a stunning crescendo and instant post rock classic.

This astonishing album cements Swans' deserved place here at PA, and really is a modern masterpiece.

Report this review (#1324763)
Posted Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
3 stars 'To Be Kind' - Swans (68/100)

Before even getting into To Be Kind as a musical work itself, it's an amazement unto itself that people are getting this worked up and divided over a rock album in 2014. Beyond my reservations for Swans' latest (for which I have many) that keep me far from agreeing with the considerable demographic backing it as the 'Album of the Year', I think that's a pretty awe-inspiring thing to see, particularly when the perceived mainstream has long-since declared that 'guitar music is dead'. Oh well, [%*!#] them; in my books they're proven wrong with every new day.

There's a bit of reservation that comes with the mere act of writing about Swans, a band who've amassed a mythology and fanbase willing to go to the graves with them if the need arose. More than that, as an undoubtedly 'experimental' band, Swans have a style and approach entirely to themselves; an antecedent knowledge of drone, post-rock or avant-garde music would do well to prepare a listener for Swans' sonic barrage, but never enough to the point where they wouldn't sound novel in some way. In other words, the only way to have truly been equipped to comfortably approach a new Swans record, would be to have already listened to Swans in the past. At some point in time, the initial discomfort is unavoidable.

I'd dabbled in parts of 2012's The Seer before approaching To Be Kind, but not nearly as much so to call myself experienced, much less a fan of their work. Much like The Seer, To Be Kind is a mammoth two hour investment, with a coy interest in stringing its listeners along the umpteenth degree of excess. Whether musical excess is appealing to you will largely determine your experience of To Be Kind.

I've listened to the album a few times from start to finish now, and while the familiarity certainly helps in appreciating the finer nuances of this maze, each listen makes Swans' excessive qualities less mystifying and a little more irritating. Regardless whether a song here is five or thirty-five minutes, they're usually given a similar amount of central ideas to draw upon. The album's centrepiece "Bring the Sun" has already nurtured some notoriety in this sense; after repeating a single crushing note ad nauseam (a hundred times, maybe?) there is a transgressively slow build in tempo and intensity. From there, indecipherable noise is contrasted with dark ambient soundscapes and sampling. By that point, twenty minutes have passed. The remaining fourteen minutes in the track ("Toussaint L'Ouverture") is an almost Floydian exploration in the "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" tradition; Michael Gira screams French revolution-era slogans atop this, and eventually it reverts to the ear-splitting noise. This is less a criticism of "Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture" than it is a blunt description. Even basic accounts of the music here will have a tendency to come across as hyperbole.

Repetition and patience is arguably stretched to an even greater length with the track "Oxygen", barraging the listener with a few dissonant ideas, repeated and blatantly overused. Experiments in excess like the repetition on To Be Kind give the impression that the repetition is used as an end unto itself; where supposedly cutting-edge artists try to 'one-up' their predecessors by getting more extreme in some sense, Swans have taken otherwise palatable and contemporary motifs and overused them to the point where I wonder if enjoyment hasn't given away completely to superficial irritation by the time Swans finally unveil a new idea.

To To Be Kind's credit, each one of the songs here is distinctive. "Screen Shot" is about as accessible as Swans' monotony gets here. "Just a Little Boy" sounds like David Lynch might have conjured with a more expansive set of sounds. "A Little God In My Hands" is a favourite of mine, where the dissonance and excess gives way partially to a playful (though undeniably tense) atmosphere. While the song is far from the album's strong suit, To Be Kind offers a considerably stronger first half. Even then, there are some highlights; "She Loves Us" is probably my favourite track of the whole two hours; a dark psychedelic reconstruction that doesn't seem to get boring in spite of its repetition. The album's title track- capping off the album- is also memorable and, at least relative to Swans' recent output, surprisingly tender. O'course, on most of the other albums you've likely heard this year, "To Be Kind" would stick out like a necrotic, lovelorn thumb for its ominous atmosphere.

Maybe it's unfashionable to say so, but I don't think Swans' songwriting is so impressive, especially not considering the lavish acclaim that's heaped upon them. Rather, any strained appreciation (most often an odd fascination rather than outright enjoyment) I've had for To Be Kind lies in the balls-out bizarre and nuanced way the music is arranged and recorded. The sampled laughter on "Just a Little Boy" never ceases to feel terrifying on the heels of Gira screeching about his vulnerability and humanity (of lack thereof); it gives the impression that some ungodly force is making a mockery of human suffering. An unhindered enjoyment of "Screen Shot" is made difficult by the band's trademark longwindedness, but the calculated manner Gira steadily builds layers of sound is impressive. Even the most violent, visceral portions of the album have been arranged with a master's attention to detail. The noise comes by as a jagged whoosh, but if you listen hard enough, there are plenty of individually things going on at once; it's like pulling back a strip of bark on a rotting tree and seeing a world of life at work below the surface. It's often disgusting and ugly, but there's a sure beauty in the way it all comes together.

Try as I might, To Be Kind doesn't offer up its secrets easily. Decryption has been one thing, but actively enjoying the album is worlds more difficult. Things like Michael Gira's incessant repetition of the opening note on "Bring the Sun" are fascinating as novel experiments in concept, but actually listening to it, the innovation often feels more annoying than sincere. Still, the fact that a single album could stir so many conflicting views in me says something for Swans' power, both as artists and as enduring provocateurs.

Report this review (#1326315)
Posted Friday, December 19, 2014 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars Well this was my introduction to SWANS and lets just say i'm impressed. The negatives for me are few with this double album but include the over 2 hours running time and also the lyrics which don't do a lot for me. This New York City band have been around since the early eighties and have had several phases if you will. The music on this recording is dark, experimental, powerful, angry, repetitive and atmospheric. I do think Post-Rock works as a sub-genre for them although "Experimental" and "Avant" would work although I do feel the spirit of GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR is in this music even though this band preceeds them. Lots of different instruments are used as well.

"Screen Shot" is one of my favourites. We get this catchy and repetitive rhythm that is quite sparse but it builds some. It turns more powerful after 7 minutes as the intensity increases. "Just A Little Boy(For Chester Burnett)" is sparse and dark to start as almost spoken vocals arrive after 2 minutes. The vocals become more intense before 5 minutes and we get some creepy sampled laughter that comes and goes. Some intense outbursts will come and go as well. "A Little God In My Hands" has this catchy repetitive rhythm throughout. Vocals a minute in, then a female vocal line is repeated after 4 minutes. Experimental sounds around 5 1/2 minutes in to the end including electronics as the vocals have stopped.

"Bring The Sun/ Toussaint L'ouverture" is over 34 minutes! It's spacey to start then it kicks in hard. A calm after 2 1/2 minutes and vocal expressions arrive a minute later. A vocal line is repeated starting after 5 minutes. It's picking up around 9 1/2 minutes as the vocal line stops and singing begins but again it's repeated over and over. A sawing sound arrives before 17 minutes and then we hear a horse on cobblestone before 18 1/2 minutes as experimental sounds continue along with distorted guitar sounds. A new section takes over around 21 minutes in that is mellow but then these angry vocals join in. I love the sound of the keys that echo. "Some Things We Do" ends disc one. A guitar line is joined by almost spoken vocals and atmosphere.

"She Loves Us" is another favourite of mine. A repetitive and heavy rhythm leads the way early on then we get a repetitive female vocal line as male vocals come and go over top. The vocals stop as it turns experimental and powerful. A catchy beat takes over after 7 minutes and vocals join in. Love this. It slowly becomes more powerful. "Kirsten Supine" opens with atmosphere and deep almost spoken vocals. I'm reminded somewhat of Beefheart here and i'm not the biggest fan of this section. It changes though after 5 1/2 minutes as a beat and more start to build Post-Rock style until it's insane. "Oxygen" has distorted guitar as the drums join in then these crazy vocals. A powerful tune that has some suspense to it. "Nathalie Neal" has these dual vocal melodies to start and they sound pretty cool. Sampled spoken words arrive and for some reason i'm thinking GY!BE. The words stop and the sound picks up. So good. "To Be Kind" opens beautifully with mellotron as reserved vocals join in. Some powerful outbreaks follow until it's a wall of sound.

I really look forward to reviewing many of their earlier albums and highly recommend this one to adventerous music fans.

Report this review (#1442527)
Posted Saturday, July 18, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars Eh, I'm not sure about this one. It isn't bad - of course it isn't, this is late-period Swans here - but much of it seems to lack a certain Swans something. The band seem to draw on the influence of Godspeed You Black Emperor here and there - see in particular the climax of Nathalie Neal - and whilst for the most part that is a good thing, it does make this a disorienting listen. And two hours is probably too long by far, the band showing little willingness to actually edit down their material to tease out the successful parts and rework the limp bits.
Report this review (#1585757)
Posted Thursday, July 7, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars In this monster of an album from 'Swans' called 'To Be Kind', the heavy, sludge sound of the past and the somewhat gothic sound of the more recent past are gone. The band has moved on to major progressive status which was proved in the albums released after their 10 year hiatus. The music has grown up in a huge way. Their music is now much more experimental, more listenable, but I wouldn't call it accessible. I would however call it smart music. Now the music focuses more on the long form and development over a mostly repetitive nature, it is more akin to a rock orchestra. The double album extends to over 2 hours across only 10 tracks, one of which goes over 34 minutes.

Beginning with 'Screen Shot', we get a real exercise in development as this track develops over a repetitive riff that is mostly made up of one chord and a song of mostly one note. And this develops in a track of over 8 minutes. The fact that it is repetitive is hardly noticeable, as the attention is directed to the development of the music. It starts simple, but builds and builds on a constant crescendo with added layers and added intensity throughout, just like Ravel's Bolero. It may sound annoying, but it really isn't. It is an amazing track.

Next comes the 12 minute track 'Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett)'. This is dedicated to blues legend Howlin' Wolf, and if you are familiar with his music, then you are going to understand how this track is inspired by the man. This music moves slowly, much like Swans of yesteryear, but this time, it isn't heavy and loud, but it is intense. Again, it builds itself over the passage of time, but the intensity ebbs and flows, diminishes and grows. Just like the blues of Burnett, the music is based off of a singular riff and a simple chord structure, mostly just improvised off of one chord with some variation as it comes to the last section of the track. Swans early music was based off of one chord blues rock, it was just really loud and hard to listen to. This time, it is so much more mature and that actually makes it give a bigger impact with the use of dynamics instead of being played at one very loud volume all the way through.

An interesting change up occurs on 'A Little God in My Hands' as you get a funky beat and a guitar and bass emitting some cool effects. As the verses are sung, this beat continues, but at the end of the verse, there is an explosion of sound before returning to a variation of the theme, again based around one chord. The slight variation represents the growing of the track as a brighter keyboard pattern is added before the verse comes in. This time, a drone of sorts is dropped in to the instrumental foundation and eventually a choral, sort-of-chant joins in. After singing mostly an unchanging note against the quick processional beat, it changes, and a thick orchestral style drone starts that contains what sounds like a brass and synth orchestra. Up to this point, the album is pretty amazing. The next track, however, is a study in excess that goes on too long.

Next is the huge track 'Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ovuerture' that pulls out all of the stops right at the beginning of this 34 minute opus. This is a wall of sound with a beat that almost makes you think your needle is in a locked track. After two minutes of this, things calm as the percussion and bass and most everything except for a drone and bits of atmospheric accompaniment drops out. As vocals start, things feel really expansive as you get a combination of middle-Eastern singing against an almost Western soundtrack, both styles imagining desert wasteland. This sudden sparseness is very trance-like. At 7 minutes, you can hear intensity start to build as the drums get more excited and other sounds start getting louder. Finally, after the 14 minute mark, when you think it can't get any more intense, you reach the climax, and it all breaks down, builds up quickly and breaks down again. Now all the drones and everything are gone, and were left with tinkling guitars and various other instrumental noises. At this point, there are what sounds like hammering and sawing noises, until deep, droning vocals start and other sounds like horses, seagulls and maybe children are heard. There are some strange instrumental effects that continue on here and a heavy sounding drone has also developed and after a few attempts, takes things over all together in another wall of noise, picking things up like a tornado. After 20 minutes, it all breaks down again to minimal sounds and a soft thumping bass. Now things turn psychedelic as sounds swirl around, and a voice starts shouting out the title to the 2nd section of the track. It's almost like you are listening to a spaced out version of 'The Doors' except, someone opened the doors and went beyond. After 30 minutes, the wall of noise returns as everything gets swirled together again and continues to the end. It's quite a journey if you make it through, but honestly, it is far too long.

The first half of the album ends on the 5 minute track 'Some Things We Do'. Vocals list off some of the things we do as people in a speaking/sing-song style, but in a somewhat monotonous way as instruments swirl around. At this point, the first three tracks are great, the forth one starts out great until around the 17 minute point, and it should have called it quite there, and the last track really doesn't go anywhere, so it ends weak.

To start off the 2nd half, 'She Loves Us' is another long one at 17 minutes. It starts with an infectious hook with a lot of various percussion. This goes on for a few minutes with only one modulation. After it resolves back to the original key, the vocals start with a that uses a middle-Eastern sounding mode. At 4 minutes, the hook and the vocals stop leaving things free floating with a modulating drone and cool effects. Instruments get added back in, including drums pounding in a non- rhythmic pattern. At 7 minutes, everything comes together as another hook pattern starts up that is soon joined by English vocals this time, that also have a drone-like chanting quality to them. Things turn rhythmic now and you get a good solid beat. But the music falls into a repetitive trance-like feel here, and its okay except when Gira starts shouting again in his Jim Morrison style. At around 15 minutes, things get chaotic as everything falls apart and you are left with layers of drone-like vocals before the instruments come in to close everything off in a dramatic fashion. I understand the study of repetition and creating textures around it, but again, I feel this could have been better if it ended at 10 minutes.

'Kirsten Supine' begins with a softer drone and minimalist feel before Gira starts to sing in his low register accompanied by soft chimes and effects. After 5 minutes, a thumping drum starts to move things forward and sustained bells and chimes continue to play. Moaning guitars start to come in building intensity until they create a modulating drone. The drums start crashing harder. Things become more unsettling as it continues. This time, at over 10 minutes, things finally stop and fade making this track the perfect length.

'Oxygen' has a great hook and beat that repeats, and some crazy vocals come in. This time the vocals don't seem as annoying as they seem more natural here. Everything builds off of this hook as instruments get added in. Soon the instruments and vocals match each other in rhythm and sound, everything stops, and starts again with brassy sounds added to the mix making things more unsettling until several instrumental hits finally close it out at 8 minutes.

'Nathalie Neal' begins with echoing vocal effects. Other traditional instruments get added in slowly swirling around in a psychedelic haze. Spoken vocals (probably field recordings) come in for a short time. At 3 minutes, a rhythmic hook comes in and things intensify quickly before singing vocals begin. The same basic pattern continues for the remainder of the 10 minute track until the last minute when things get really quiet, but this time around the track just flies by because it is so much better.

The last track is the title track 'To Be Kind'. It starts off with swirling effects, staying minimal even when the spooky, mesmerizing vocals start, almost in a lullaby, but one that is meant to not be soothing. The lyrics 'There are millions and millions of stars in your eyes' do not seem that soothing. After the mid way point after four minutes, things suddenly get loud and heavy with unrelenting pounding drums and screaming instruments that stop and start a few times.

This album is a study in repetitiveness and excessiveness. In this way, it returns to the Swans albums of old, but the music is still much different in that it has lost its sludgy, dark metal sound. There are a lot more instruments of every kind added in here now, but things can still be just as unsettling, but at least it is much, much better than those early albums. The album is also not in the same vein of progressive ingenuity as it does seem to veer more towards the post-punk sound. I find the album overall more accessible than the earliest albums, though that isn't saying much, but I enjoy the tracks that don't go over the 11 minute mark. The two behemoth tracks on here go on way too long, and end up bringing the overall score down lower than the last few albums which were ingenious. I know that you can always hit the fast forward button past those long passages, but this album just doesn't quite reach the 5 star status like "My Father Will Guide...." and "The Seer" did. Still, I appreciate what the band was trying to do here.

Report this review (#2135770)
Posted Monday, February 11, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars Frankly? I don't know why this band is here. I just don't get it. But I love them to death and this album is a masterpiece, no matter what genre and I rate it as such. This is tripple lp (I have it on vinyl) and it's so intense, so manic that it gets as close as possible to their unbelievable, cathartic live performances. Those repetitions, those layers and layers of sound, and not least - Gira's voice. Love it absolutely and unconditionaly. It's a rare thing when a band rather late in their career puts out releases as good as those in their prime. And with Swans it's a rule not an exception. All their recent records are amazing, but this is probably my favorite from their 2010-now (2021) incarnation.
Report this review (#2592958)
Posted Wednesday, September 8, 2021 | Review Permalink

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