Swans - To Be Kind

To call Swans’ latest album To Be Kind a collection of new music is a bit of a misnomer. I saw them about two weeks after their last album, 2012’s The Seer, was released and three tracks that would end up on To Be Kind­—“Nathalie Neal,” “She Loves Us!” and the title track—were already being featured (albeit in different forms) as part of their set. In fact, they played as many songs that would end up on To Be Kind as they did from the album they were touring behind. And last year’s limited-edition fundraising set Not Here/Not Now featured all but two of the tracks that would end up on To Be Kind in either live or demo form. Somehow, though, the fact that most of the material on the 2+ hour long To Be Kind is already familiar does absolutely nothing to dull the overall impact of the album. Much like (and perhaps even more so than) The Seer, Michael Gira and company have crafted a breathtaking, must-hear album.

Stylistically, the songs on To Be Kind don’t vary much from the template the band has used on the rest of their post-hiatus output. Eschewing traditional verse-chorus-verse structures, the songs are primarily built around one or two main riffs that are repeated with increasing intensity until they either reach some sort of crescendo or bludgeon the listener into submission while Gira howls and raves like a madman over the din. The songs tend to be long—generally ranging from just under ten to over thirty minutes in length—and in order to fully appreciate the albums, they demand to be listened to as a whole. Swans are not a passive listening experience.

Where To Be Kind does differ from The Seer in particular—and what, I believe, ultimately makes it a slightly better album—is that it’s a much more dynamic album. The Seer was unrelenting; To Be Kind has traces of melody that weren’t as apparent on The Seer. For example, lead single “A Little God in My Hands” is downright funky by Swans standards, and both “Nathalie Neal” and the album’s title track have moments that are really quite lovely. They also make much better use of space in the songs, allowing the instruments to occasionally drop out to great effect like during the stampeding horses section in the middle of the 34-minute epic "Bring the Sun" / "Toussaint L'Ouverture," which is probably the most exhilarating section on the album. 

Ultimately, To Be Kind makes a strong case that Swans aren’t just the best experimental band going these days; they’re one of the best bands out there period. So pick up a copy from Young God Records, clear two hours from your schedule, and enjoy the ride.