Swans – To Be Kind

Near perfection from Michael Gira’s adventurous ensemble…

Swans’ previous album, 2012’s ‘The Seer’ (Spotlight feature), was monumental, a behemoth of bleakness and self-flagellation, a meditation on the sublime from which these songs were directly born.

A harsher parent is hard to imagine, but while its progeny hasn’t fallen far from the tree, ‘To Be Kind’ is altogether more colourful, an expansive record – fleshier, bloodier and lusciously psychedelic.

Where ‘The Seer’ gazed deep into the void, this sets its sights on the stars. It’s ‘kosmische musik’ in every sense, utilising the talents of several guest musicians, labelmate Cold Specks, previous collaborator Little Annie and the imperious St Vincent

‘Screen Shot’ is a cyclical, insistent opening, hypnotic and distant. A sinister tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, ‘Just A Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)’, is Delta blues through a David Lynch filter: dirty, disconcerting and darkly feral. 

The sickly, influenza-wheezing funk of ‘A Little God In My Hands’ (below) is a relative breeze at just over seven minutes. It’s a breather before ‘Bring The Sun’: an epic sonic baptism of shamanistic, trance-inducing, ‘Ummagumma’-era Pink Floyd instrumentation and cacophonous incantation.

The call-to-arms of ‘Toussaint L’Ouverture’, named after the Haitian revolutionary, is a brutal yet buoyant celebration, while the lean ‘Oxygen’ is super tight, a funk-based post-rock propulsion of big ballooning sound punctuated by brass. Later, ‘Nathalie Neal’ is a haunting mélange of vibraphones and spoken-word.

Frontman Michael Gira’s ever-abstract lyrics give plenty of room for interpretation throughout. Imagine Karlheinz Stockhausen’s jarring classicism, Captain Beefheart's twisted blues, and the industrialism of Einstürzende Neubauten coalescing into a swirling musical miasma. Near perfection.


Words: Anna Wilson

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Related: read our Spotlight feature on 'The Seer'

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