Swans have carried various types of sounds throughout the 32 years since their first lineup, but they have mostly experimented in long song structures, repetitive musical building, and truly bizarre vocal styles from the iconic Gira. To Be Kind is a strange blend of all the previous sounds put out by the band, being both cerebral and intelligent, while bursting at the seams with incredibly loud attacks as well. Throughout the record, listeners will be treated to songs that build to massive heights and worthwhile finishes. No song has a disappointing sequence, although the album will require an astronomical amount of patience. Clocking in at 121 minutes, Swans are aiming for the stars with such a hefty running time. The marathon listen is well worth one’s time, but attention must be paid to every tiny detail.
“Screen Shot” kicks off To Be Kind on one the various high notes that are going to be discussed. There is a highly sinister set of guitars that kick off the track, punctuated by steady drumming from Thor Harris and a bass guitar that refuses to waver. The lyrics about human existence are cryptic at best, but the final sequences are grand and epic to create a perfect opener. “Just a Little Boy(For Chester Burnett)” follows up with the oddest track of the lot. Gira contorts his voice to sound like a child crying for love, while the rest of the band laugh at his puny cries. “A Little God In My Hands” comes through with one of the noisiest tracks, full of stout drums and a boisterous bass line. The anger emanating from Gira’s voice is unrivaled on the record, sounding even more insane than usual.
The major test of patience comes through as “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’ Ouverture” kicks off it’s 34 minute journey. “Bring The Sun” is driven by heavy drums that set a sinister pace only to be followed by ritualistic vocals that sound as if you are about to be sacrificed in order to call on a demonic soul. “Toussaint L’ Ouverture” is more diverse, employing sound effects to tell a story that include the sawing of wood, horses whimpering, and the sound of menacing hammers. The vocals take over later with some of the most demanding shouts one will hear all year.
The rest of the album begins to feel a bit smaller after such a massively created experience. “Some Things We Do” is like a more happy version of “Screen Shot,” resorting to lighter tones on guitars and violins while singing more accessible lyrics. “She Loves Us” feels more like a cerebral yet raunchy cock rock track, utilizing fast paced drums and guitars to set a gross tone. “Kirsten Supine” is influenced by Lars Von Trier’s masterpiece Melancholia, being equally odd and disturbing as it builds to a nightmarish finish.
“Oxygen” is the crown jewel of the record though, being inspired by the lead singer’s near death experience of choking. The song is menacing as it moves toward faster tone changes at a frequent rate with impressively contorted vocals. “Nathalie Neal” is a loving tribute to a friend, marking the prettiest and loveliest listening experience, and “To Be Kind” closes the record off in precise fashion, using a slow first half full of depressive but hopeful lyrics until the instrumentation takes over the second half with a noisy and huge finish.
Swans have released great records in the past, but To Be Kind is the true definition of a perfect album. There are no low points that sound dull or flat, no poor performances, or even a poorly built song. Everything from the great instrumental performances and awkward vocal styles create what can only be described as an all-encompassing music experience. It is obvious no one will pop this record on every day due to an overpowering running time, but it will be perfect every single time one is in the mood to take the journey.
1. Screen Shot
2. Just a Little Boy(For Chester Burnett)
3. A Little God In My Hands
4. Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’ Ouverture
5. Some Things We Do
6. She Loves Us
7. Kirsten Supine
9. Nathalie Neal
10. To Be Kind