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SWANS

Post Rock/Math rock • United States


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Swans biography
Part of the original No Wave scene in the early 1980's, the New York City rock band SWANS has since become one of the most respected experimental rock outfits to the present. Led by the visionary vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Michael GIRA, SWANS operated for nearly two decades from their inception in 1983, he is also well known producer. His daunting and impressive songwriting abilities created some of the strangest and revolutionary music to date. Influences of post-rock are seen in numerous records, notable in Soundtracks for the Blind, which predates a lot of the crescendo-core stuff, and the band has influenced numerous post-rock bands with their ever expanding sound and advanced technical approach to rock music. Although they broke up in 1997, SWANS reunited in 2010 to record two more albums, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky and The Seer.

Bio written by The Truth(Tanner)and updated by zravkapt(Darryl)

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Buy SWANS Music


To Be KindTo Be Kind
YOUNG GOD 2014
Vinyl$23.05
$35.30 (used)
FilthFilth
Young God 2014
Vinyl$14.65
$24.99 (used)
The SeerThe Seer
YOUNG GOD 2012
Vinyl$22.29
$163.00 (used)
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the SkyMy Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
YOUNG GOD 2010
Audio CD$9.43
$5.59 (used)
Cop / Young God / Greed / Holy MoneyCop / Young God / Greed / Holy Money
Import
Universal UK 2010
Audio CD$8.84
$12.00 (used)
Great AnnihilatorGreat Annihilator
Remastered
YOUNG GOD 2002
Audio CD$9.41
$6.31 (used)
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4h 29m
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SWANS shows & tickets


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SWANS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

SWANS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.96 | 24 ratings
Filth
1983
3.20 | 18 ratings
Cop
1984
3.24 | 16 ratings
Greed
1986
3.76 | 16 ratings
Holy Money
1986
4.60 | 35 ratings
Children of God
1987
3.11 | 16 ratings
The Burning World
1989
4.17 | 24 ratings
White Light From the Mouth of Infinity
1991
3.36 | 14 ratings
Love of Life
1992
4.07 | 27 ratings
The Great Annihilator
1995
4.25 | 36 ratings
Soundtracks for the Blind
1996
3.89 | 28 ratings
My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
2010
4.21 | 87 ratings
The Seer
2012
3.99 | 115 ratings
To Be Kind
2014

SWANS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.50 | 8 ratings
Public Castration is a Good Idea
1986
4.50 | 2 ratings
Feel Good Now
1987
4.50 | 2 ratings
Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room
1990
5.00 | 1 ratings
Real Love
1992
4.00 | 1 ratings
Omniscience
1992
5.00 | 1 ratings
Kill the Child: 1985/1986/1987 Live
1995
4.08 | 6 ratings
Swans Are Dead
1998
4.14 | 7 ratings
We Rose From Your Bed with the Sun in Our Head
2012
4.14 | 7 ratings
Not Here / Not Now
2013

SWANS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

SWANS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.32 | 3 ratings
Body to Body, Job to Job
1991
4.00 | 4 ratings
Various Failures 1988-1992
1999
0.00 | 0 ratings
Forever Burned
2003

SWANS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.40 | 5 ratings
Swans
1982
2.17 | 5 ratings
Young God
1984
3.09 | 3 ratings
A Screw
1986
3.00 | 2 ratings
Time Is Money (Bastard)
1986
3.96 | 6 ratings
Die Tür ist zu
1996

SWANS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Greed by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.24 | 16 ratings

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Greed
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Dobermensch

4 stars I guess something had to give considering the pulverising onslaught of the previous recordings. 'Greed' reveals a stripped down 'Swans' and is a highly negatively charged album. It doesn't have the masochistic pleasure of the previous 'Cop'. Michael Gira's deep and aggressive vocals remain. He sounds like he has a cement mixer where his larynx should be.

There's no happy go lucky pub-knees-up to be heard anywhere in the vicinity of 'Swans' at the best of times and this is no exception. In fact this is probably their most miserable sounding album they released. The opener has the surprising inclusion of a piano. The half speed guitar plays the same 4 chord guitar sequence as Floyd's 'In the Flesh' and it's a real downer, so if you're not keen on heavy negative emotions you're advised to steer well clear.

Jarboe makes her first appearance as a member of Swans on 'Nobody' - a self-hating dirge that has some wonderfully apocalyptic 'Gira' vocals at the 3 minute mark as some crunching, repetitive drums appear. Jarboe's contribution is relegated to some 'oohs and ahhs' in the background. This is Swans' anti capitalist, money is evil recording. The drums are particularly well mixed in 'Greed' and have a doom-laden echoey feel. There's a clever approach on this album where quiet pauses are used which add to the overall feel of imminent looming disaster.

Musically it's nothing special. Quite poor in fact. It's the emotion and atmosphere it creates that raises this album above the sum of its parts. I wasn't aware of Michael Gira's state of mind until hearing this album which was the most vocal orientated to this point. You therefore pay more attention to what he's bumping his gums about - and it's not good. Not good at all. Clearly his brain was full of broken bottles.

The stodgy lethargy evaporates with the entirely Industrial 'Money is Flesh'. This is a repetitive, thumping, drum based mantra where once again it's the intense baritone and dominant vocals that make the track shine.

The undoubted highlight is the superb 'Time is Money'. An upbeat but really violent track with some very disturbing imagery. It's best I don't dwell on this here. Lets just say that it's sexual in nature. This is probably my favourite 'Swans' track of all time and it's also their most evil moment. The drums are pounding, relentless and machine-gun like. It's also guitar free. 'Gira' sings like he's just flown his kite into an overhead electrical pylon where he spits venom and vitriol from the outset. This is as loud as War itself.

'Greed' and its successor 'Holy Money' are two peas in the same pod. This could easily have been a double album but that would have left even the most strong willed left thoroughly suicidal.

The musicians must have left these recordings bewildered and totally dejected. There's no fun to be had at all. Every sound and beat is used as a vehicle for Michael Gira's demented, tortured and unhappy mindset.

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 Holy Money by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.76 | 16 ratings

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Holy Money
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Dobermensch

3 stars It can't have been a bundle of laughs on board the 'Swans' train while recording this. 'Holy Money' sounds like it's being played and sung by the undead from 'Zombie Flesh Eaters'. It's a heavy and bleak dirge despite the occasional Jarboe female vocals.

I guess it's good for clearing unwanted guests from a late night party as those irritating stragglers hang about chatting 10 feet from the door. The atmosphere is oppressive as you'd expect, but it's less of a barrage with a bit of space to breathe compared to their first recordings. And that's not necessarily a good thing...

'Holy Money' like its predecessor 'Greed' is certainly no uplifting experience and lacks the density and violence of those first two excellent sledgehammer albums. In saying that, there is the rather impressive 'A Screw'. Spoken, rather than shouted lyrics are wrapped around a hugely repetitive and heavy stomping drum sequence.

This is one of the first 'Swans' recordings I bought and I was as unimpressed then as I am now 22 years later. It's one of those albums that just rubs me up the wrong way. I find it something of an an annoyance to sit through in its entirety. It's too 'dead'.

The only truly great song is the battering 'Money is Flesh', with its superb jackhammer drums and repetitive lyrics. It's real heavy stuff listeners... and almost guitar free. Michael Gira sounds so much more acceptable to my damaged ears when he's screaming, spitting blood and spouting venom.

Jarboe's 'Blackmail' is a jarring oddity which may well have fit on a different recording. The soft piano and pretty vocal style is totally at odds with bulk of 'Holy Money'. It's like trying to put on a pair of gloves that have four fingers. Annoying.

I'm in a generous mood and full of gin and orange, and therefore find it hard to give it any less than 3 stars. It was a close run thing though.

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 Filth by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1983
3.96 | 24 ratings

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Filth
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Dobermensch

4 stars I don't know about you but this gets me pumped up like nothing else and I'm now ready to take on the heavyweight champion of the world. Without gloves...

This first Lp by Swans is also one of their best. 'Mr angry' Michael Gira vents his spleen at all who are willing to listen. Agonised barks and shouted vocals about control and violence are at the forefront throughout this beastly 1983 outing. Seriously... this can't have been good for his health at all. His blood pressure must have been through the roof. The man clearly had some issues.

The music within sounds like how the iconic cover looks - visceral. It's a weirdly paced explosive Blitzkrieg of an album.

It's brutal stuff from beginning to end. There's no variation in mood and it's all atonal and nihilistic. Having dual drummers and a thumping repetitive non melodic bass makes a huge impact on the overall bludgeoning sound. It's like being repeatedly hit over the head with a shovel . Not just musically, but lyrically too, as lines are growled many times over. Subtle use of electronics and tapes add an extra dimension - it's incongruous hearing backward wobbly vocals on such a raw album

Deliberately there's no let up. No break in mood, just an all encompassing, pulverising psychic attack. 'Filth' is more lively than their following 3 albums which just leave you feeling shattered. This is therefore a less dismal listening experience. 'Filth' is an ideal listen for participating in endurance sports, as it squeezes every ounce of blood out of your pores.

The guitars played by Norman Westberg sound like some crazed Doctor sawing through bones. They're mean and dark and sound like they're being played with shards of glass rather than plectrums. They are used solely in conjunction with the pounding drums.

Some have called this the heaviest record ever made. It's not. My vote for that award probably goes to 'Dissecting Table', 'Merzbow' or early 'Controlled Bleeding'. However it certainly must be the heaviest album to appear in the 'Archives'. I'm sure most of this websites readers would feel as though they're being run over by a steam-roller in slow motion on first exposure to this aural assault.

'Filth' is an exhilirating and intense experience which will leave you baying for blood. If the Marquis de Sade were alive today, I'm sure it would have been his favourite 'Desert Island Disc'.

You can put the party hats and streamers away folks.

This is military boot camp stuff run by an angry drill Sergeant, so get down on your hands and knees and give me 100 press-ups. Now!

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 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 115 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 Holy Money by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.76 | 16 ratings

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Holy Money
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is the last full album in the Swans dollar sign series. This, just like all the previous albums, is very dirge-like and brutal throughout. It takes you down into the depths of the muddiest swamps of depression and darkness. Early Swans music is known for being the most brutal music out there, and this album is no exception to that. But you also begin to hear a little more experimentation in the music in this album, and you also get a short interlude sung by Jarboe ("You Need Me"), who would from this point forward have more of an influence in the overall sound of the music in the subsequent albums. This acts as a quick break in the otherwise extreme sound of this album.

But in the tracks like "A Hanging" and "Fool #2", you also hear a break away from the constant rhythm that usually would establish itself in previous Swans tracks and would remain mostly unchanging throughout each track. In this album, the rhythm, ground line and guitar follows a repetitive pattern as before, but now the sound will suddenly change mid-track, showing the band's new penchant for exploring sounds and possibilities in their music.

The album still features unrelenting heavy and depressing music and was considered post-punk at the time. At this point though, you will start hearing experimentation into post and math rock, and this works to this albums advantage and at even greater levels in future albums. As for now, most people will still find this music too heavy, but it is better than previous efforts as some variety and experimentation starts to show through. The music is better quality and the band shows interest in exploring new musical avenues. Of all the heavy, industrial sounding post punk albums from Swans, this one is the one I consider the best. This is a good introduction to the earlier discography, if you are inclined to explore this music that lives in the depths of dark human souls. 4 stars.

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 Greed by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 1986
3.24 | 16 ratings

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Greed
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

3 stars So after 2 full length albums and several E.P.s, Swans had established themselves as a loud, churning, dark and sludgy industrial punk sound with primitive rhythms and sounds and very hard to understand lyrics. Swans was a big underground hit and the fans knew what to expect, simple, repetitive tunes that made you feel like you were not just in a funeral dirge, but were being dragged behind the procession in the mud face down. Imagine their surprise when they heard the first track on this album "Greed".

Immediately, they knew a something had changed. What is this....a piano? And this sounds like Gira singing, but I can actually understand what he is chanting/singing. With this album, the slow change had started in Swans overall sound. Though it sounded quite drastic on the first track, even though it is still dark and repetitive, the band was ready to explore new ground.

Like I said, the album starts out with the song "Fool", a dissonant and heavy piano leading the way with the guitar providing background sounds, no hammering percussion and there are lyrics that you can understand. Yes they are still depressing and bleak and the vocals are dissonant and heavy, but there is an obvious change. After that, the sound turns back to the industrial slow dirge- like beat that the fans were used to, but the sound is not a full return to the overall sound from before. The lyrics are easier to decipher and the music isn't as unrelenting. The repetition follows throughout the album, but the lyrics are so much more hard hitting now that you can understand them.

There are some new things the band is trying here too. This is the first album to feature vocals from Jarboe, even though she is a background singer on the 2 tracks she sings on. The title track plods on for almost 3 and a half minutes with wordless vocals, more like a moan/gasp sound from Jarboe, before Gira starts to sing. The closest thing to the previous sound is on the track "Heaven" which, even though it isn't as loud as before, it is the slowest grind of the album with Gira doing his groaning/moaning/singing/droning as before. He's singing about "This is Heaven" like he is pissed about being there. Quite frankly, this is the most evil sounding of all of the tracks, but it is also the most progressive. You will get the odd looks if you play this in public, so yes, it is reminiscent of their previous material. The last track on the original album is "Money is Flesh" which uses a synthesizer playing the main riff instead of the guitar, but other than that, it still pounds it's way into your a brain like a sledgehammer.

So, it's repetitive and overall still quite loud and grinding. But there have been some levers inserted into the music and you see a band starting to develop and pull itself out of the muck of their previous punk-ish version of industrial music. The music would continue to develop with each album after this and things would get better. As the band approaches more of a post-punk, mathcore sound, the music slowly gets better until they actually and surprisingly begin to produce some very innovative music. But as far as this album, it's still a long way from where they would end up. But it is interesting to hear where they came from and how they developed. This is better than previous albums, but not by much. I have to give them props though for having the courage to develop their music and their talents. This is progression, but not yet progressive. I will give this 3 stars simply because it is an attempt to try new things for the band. But it's still not easy to listen to too often.

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 Young God by SWANS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1984
2.17 | 5 ratings

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Young God
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

2 stars This is hard, heavy and sludgy all the way through. The same thing that you would expect to hear from early Swans music. There isn't any let up in it's heaviness. It is very primitive sounding and repetitive. Many consider it industrial and that is a good way to describe it, but don't expect a fast beat, it is more like a churning industrial noise more than anything. Even though it might be slightly more experimental than some of the albums the Swans released early in their career, it is still that harsh sound. The first track, "I Crawled" is probably the best of the 4 tracks on this 24 minute EP, and it shows a lot of promise as to prog tendencies, but other than that, it is not much in the way of being progressive. Swans later releases will adopt more progressive elements as time goes on, but don't look for them here.

Some people might find it interesting that Kurt Cobain considered this E.P. his fiftieth most favorite album ever, even though he called the album "Raping a Slave" after the 2nd track. The album has also been known as "I Crawled", but the band refers to it as "Young God" so that is considered the official title.

If you do like the dark, depressive sound of Swans earlier music, then this is a must have. The E.P. itself may not be available now because it was eventually combined with the album "Cop". The overall sound is the same as that album and also "Filth" but slightly more experimental. It has been considered the most brutal of all of their releases. I personally find it easier to listen to it in the E.P. format because it is so harsh and repetitive. It's easier to take early Swans material in smaller doses like this.

Because of the inclusion of this album on the re-issue of "God", it is now only an album that will interest collectors and fans. For that reason I give it 2 stars.

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 Die Tür ist zu by SWANS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1996
3.96 | 6 ratings

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Die Tür ist zu
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This album is considered an E.P. even though it runs for almost an hour. I think the reason for the E.P. label is because it is actually a collection of outtakes, new German versions and live versions of previous songs. It was released only in Germany between the albums "The Great Annihilator" and "Soundtracks for the Blind" This is a very post rock sounding album which incorporates droning at times, starkness and minimalism at time and harshness and extreme loud passages at others. This creates a very versatile album with hardly a dull moment. This will be a track by track review of the album.

1) Ligeti's Breath/Hiflos Kind is a very extended german-language version of "The Helpless Child" from the album "Soundtracks for the Blind" which was to be released later. This track is over 20 minutes long and was the longest track thus far by Swans. The first 8 1/2 minutes is mostly a drone which alternates between noisiness and quietness in long doses. The sound is always moving, at one point the drone is played underneath a calliope sounding music and at another point the drone is more to the foreground and competing with sounds like a crowd or mob-like noise. The music stays quite interesting and then suddenly gets quiet as the vocals stars, in German. This is a beautiful song and a very surprisingly great performance by Gira, the language not being an issue as the melody is very nice. The music stays quiet for a while and then builds to where some strong guitar chords are stuck around the 15 1/2 minute mark. It stays instrumental and almost mid-tempo as it plays out the rest of the song. A great track full of a lot of sound, beauty, dissonance and dynamic changes. For twenty minutes, this goes by quite quickly.

2) A track from Gira's solo "Drainland" album called "I See Them All Lined Up" gets the German language treatment next in a track called "Ich sehe die Alle in einer Reihe" . This one alternates from a spoken word sounding vocal track with minimalistic dirge-like background to a very loud guitar driven instrumental, almost reminiscent of Swans early work. Stark and very heavy at times. No level of beauty is evident here.

3) Surrogate Drones is a short drone piece.

4) YRP is a new version of the old Swans tune called "Your Property". Originally, this was typical Swans loudness and brutality when it was originally released. Now, it is given a stark, sad sounding feeling with a drone going on behind the vocalization this time by Jarboe. This is a live performance in Astoria London. It's very nice to hear her take on the old Swans tune done before her time with the band. It's like, the flip side, or the story from the other person's point of view. At times her voice is almost mid-eastern sounding as she laments with the music. The ending starts to pound along with the drone and crashing cymbals before it stops and shimmers along for a while. Very nice track.

5) This one is called "You Know Everything" and is a very altered version of "You Know Nothing" from the White Light album. The vocals are done as spoken word by a taped child's recording. Suddenly half way through the softness of the track is crushed by a very loud passage with a full band at full volume, but the softness returns and finishes the track. Very nice except for the part as it approaches the middle when the child's voice becomes repetitive.

6) An acoustic rendition of the track "M/F" done by Jarboe at the radio station VPRO on December 14,1994. Her vocals are very harsh against the simple guitar accompaniment as she tries to push the harshness of the original.

7) "Soundsection" is another live track from London. Gira has vocal duty on this one. It has a typical post rock sound following the same format as many "Godspeed You! Black Emperor" songs with a variating drone, mid-tempo percussive sounds with a slow crescendo, except it has Gira's trademark vocalization, deep and harsh. It could easily be mistaken for a live GY!BE track if it weren't for the vocals.

So, this is a good album for those who love the harshness and imperfections of the first albums but don't mind a lot of variety added in. Sure, it is not cohesive because of the variety of tracks and sources, but that works to it's advantage. For brand new Swans listeners, this is a great introduction to their music, especially the music that was being made during the middle of their career and as the first incarnation of the band was splitting up to work on other projects. But you also get a taste of some of their earlier works in the loud passages, it's just not as repetitive. Again, this is an E.P. but it packs the punch of a full album and lasts just as long. Not their best, but it is one of their better ones because of the variety here. 4 stars.

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 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 115 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

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.

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 To Be Kind by SWANS album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 115 ratings

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To Be Kind
Swans Post Rock/Math rock

Review by Kazza3

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.

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Thanks to angelmk for the artist addition.

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