You approach To Be Kind in the same way you approach the back end of a horse. Quietly. Circumspectly. With an air of respectful caution. Lest the calm posterior spook, rear and smash you in the face. They’re not a band to be trifled with, are Swans.
If anything, since their return in 2010, their aura has grown. They sit on the edge of the musical world like a massive dark cloud sits on the edge of a tropical beach – dark, foreboding and biblically powerful. ‘To Be Kind’ does nothing to shift that notion. It isn’t an album to be treated lightly, it isn’t an album that lends itself to being dipped into - the two hour plus running time and average track length of ten minutes sees to that – but it is an album that, with a little bit of dedication and a bit of effort leaves you agog.
Vast and sprawling, draping itself over the landscape. Refusing to be hurried for anyone, part neo-classical film score, part deconstruction of rock, part soundtrack to the apocalypse. Much like ‘The Seer’, it relies on repetition and fairly simple rhythmical constructs to gradually build these vast, magnificent sprawls of music.
Like a lot of tracks on here, the opening is slow. At the start ‘Screen Shot’ is little more than this lithe, bass line and clips of cymbals. Then in comes Michael Gira to begin his muttered incantation, his voice dry and cracked. Then more instrumentation is added, the song bows and swells and gathers momentum as each member adds weight and noise, before it climaxes in a full blown musical maelstrom.
It’s hard to think of a band who do climaxes as well as Swans. You’re constantly on the look out for them, primed, tensed, waiting another blissful apex. Perversely, when they don’t deliver them – as on for example on ‘Some Things We Do’ – the tension is almost unbearable.
But more often than not, Gira’s constructions are all about ecstatically pushing for the summit. Or summit after summit after summit. ‘Bring The Sun / Toussaint L’Ouverture’, clocking in at a spritely 34 minutes, is a series of peaks: each time you think you’ve seen the top, another layer appears on top. Rising from the swampy mists in a battery of percussion, chants and droning, incessant riffs. It then traipses through whistles, through someone sawing, to end with a noise akin to an entire orchestra being pulled through a tear in the space/time continuum.
‘To Be Kind’ is a unique and wonderful achievement from a unique and wonderful band.
It’s to raise money to fund “the final Swans album for this version/iteration of Swans.”
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