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Swans To Be Kind album cover
3.93 | 185 ratings | 11 reviews | 30% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 2014

Songs / Tracks Listing

CD1 (67:07)
1. Screen Shot (8:05)
2. Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett) (12:39)
3. A Little God in My Hands (7:09)
4. Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture (34:05)
5. Some Things We Do (5:09)

CD2 (54:10)
6. She Loves Us (17:01)
7. Kirsten Supine (10:33)
8. Oxygen (7:59)
9. Nathalie Neal (10:15)
10. To Be Kind (8:22)

Total Time: 121:17

Line-up / Musicians

- Michael Gira / vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, production
- Christoph Hahn / electric & lap steel guitars, vocals
- Norman Westberg / electric & acoustic guitars, vocals
- Christopher Pravdica / bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
- Phil Puleo / drums, percussion, dulcimer, piano, keyboards, vocals
- Thor Harris / drums, percussion, vibes, bells, winds, handmade viola, vocals

- Bill Rieflin / keyboards, synthesizer, piano, electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion
- Ann O'Connor "Little Annie" / vocals (5)
- Anne Clark "St. Vincent" / backing vocals (1, 4, 7, 9)
- Jennifer Church / backing vocals (3, 6)
- Ladan Hussein "Cold Specks" / backing vocals (4)
- Sean Kirkpatrick / piano, harpsichord, synth
- John Congleton / piano, mixing
- Daniel Hart / violin
- Rex Emerson / mandolin
- David Pierce / trombone
- Evan Weiss / trumpet
- Julia Kent / string arrangement (5)

Releases information

Artwork: Bob Biggs (photo) with M. Gira (art direction)

2CD Young God Records - YG46 (2014, US)
2CD+DVD Young God Records - YG46 (2014, Japan) (deluxe edition)
2CD+DVD Young God Records - YG46 (2014, US) (deluxe edition)
2CD+DVD Young God Records - YG46 (2014, UK & Europe)
2CD Young God Records - YG46 (2014, UK & Europe) (digipak)
2CD Young God Records - YG46(2014, Japan) (digipak)
2CD Young God Records - Mute YG46 (2014, UK & Europe) (promo)
2CD Young God Records - YG46 (2014, US) (promo)
3LP Young God Records - YG46 (2014, Europe)
3LP Young God Records - YG46 (2014, US) (test pressing, white label)

Thanks to infocat for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Swans - To Be Kind (2CDS+DVD) [Japan CD] TRCP-158Swans - To Be Kind (2CDS+DVD) [Japan CD] TRCP-158
Indies Japan
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Indies Japan
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SWANS To Be Kind ratings distribution

(185 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(30%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(31%)
Good, but non-essential (22%)
Collectors/fans only (9%)
Poor. Only for completionists (8%)

SWANS To Be Kind reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Dobermensch
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.

Review by LearsFool
COLLABORATOR Post/Math Rock Team
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.
Review by 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.

Review by 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.

Review by Warthur
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.

Latest members reviews

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1324763) | Posted by Kazza3 | Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 Godspe ... (read more)

Report this review (#1198961) | Posted by floflo79 | Friday, June 27, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 thi ... (read more)

Report this review (#1182330) | Posted by arcane-beautiful | Monday, June 2, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1179351) | Posted by Aldebaran_Well | Monday, May 26, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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". ... (read more)

Report this review (#1172398) | Posted by Xonty | Wednesday, May 7, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 doubt ... (read more)

Report this review (#1170463) | Posted by Sheets of Blue | Saturday, May 3, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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