To Be Kind
Sometimes you’ll see different music critics use the phrase “Band X demands your full attention”. They’ll use it as a euphemism for “they’re really good, so listen to them”, when they actually should reserve it for bands like Swans, who don’t so much demand your full attention as they commandeer it. This is a band who has locked audiences into venues and gone so far as to request the “Exit” signs be blacked out so they could play in total darkness. Their music dulls the senses and taps into the part of human experience that lies beyond the conscious mind. Clicking with the New York six-piece requires a good deal of surrender: you need to shut down to feel what they’re tapping into.
More so than 2012’s highly-acclaimed The Seer, To Be Kind feels like the aural half of a full-body experience. While both records are primarily composed of mighty, droning dins, the former LP featured moments where the listener could breathe (“Song For A Warrior”, “Piece Of The Sky”). On To Be Kind, Swans shirk those in favor of an intense, sonically singular experience comprised of jagged guitars and expansive rhythms that can go as long as 15 minutes (“Just A Little Boy”). In this case, it is decidedly not background music.
Total immersion in the album is rewarded with a profound mixture of fear and awe provided by pounding drums, a constant mashing of tones, and frontman Michael Gira whispering and shouting absolutes (“No fear/ No hate/ No suffering”) with his intimidating flair. The latter is provided by the sheer scope of the thing: To Be Kind is long, with half of its ten tracks regularly breaking ten minutes while the longest goes for 35. It can be daunting, but the album’s payoffs are in those later minutes, when a song whose beginning you can’t remember grows into a monolithic beast – “She Loves Us!” is eight minutes of noise clicks that swirl into a post punk groove as the song reaches the halfway mark. It’s a journey-not-a-destination Swans record; when it finally trails off after two hours of pummeling, one gets that it was a hell of an experience that can’t quite be put into words. That’s sort of the point.
Listen: “She Loves Us!”, “Oxygen”, “Bring The Sun”/”Toussaint L’Ouverture” || Watch: “A Little God In My Hands”