Michael Gira’s taking you to church. No, he’s not singing ballads and bone-crushing riffs to tell you about Jesus – he’s simply allowing music to be your bible, faith, and salvation. Gira, the front-man/orchestrator/director, leads his wise men down a long road with ten gifts to humanity, gracing the world with their deeper meanings and incredulously immortal impressions. After thirty years of putting together a life in music and reaching a point of clarity, Swans have come full force and better than ever. 2012’s The Seer started off a trek into moody melodrama and expansive atmosphere control, but To Be Kind is marginally impressive over its immediate predecessor and wholly encompassing in the art of an album. It is truly wild – reaching all new heights and potential that was only dreamt of in certain circles of existence. To Be Kind is a monolithic mammoth that swallows you whole and spits you back out, and while you’re dripping wet in the saliva of the album’s themes, movements, and mantras, everything is different. Much like the conscious effort of obtaining and experiencing anything, you will never be the same (welcome to the meta-discussion) after listening to such a insanely graceful two hours.
Yes, the album is two hours, but that’s because it takes its sweet time in building the mood and theme. Throughout the ten songs, flashes of serenity, the void, and fire will take hold, swarming and gyrating around until they have eked out all they could before straining. To Be Kind makes a grandiose effort in controlling atmosphere (even better than The Seer) and creating a unique presentation that wonders with any keen listener. Swans make this effort of pulsating and pulverizing consciousness known, screaming it into every note possible. It is beyond cinematic, for lack of a better word, because it accompanies something so human and real deep within, even if it is shrouded in mysterious sections of songs. To make this description short, Swans create something completely unique to the form of music. In 2014, nearly 42,000 years from the swan flute of the cavemen, we have something refreshing and new. To Be Kind exposes a raw emotion of humanity never done so well in music.
Swans’ “A Little God In My Hands”
The songs placed here are masterfully tuned and filled. Never does a track whine or strain, it serves it’s lasting purpose until it simply cannot badger you any longer, and moves on into a newer section. One defining example is the erratic “She Loves Us!,” which travels from a crashing, percussive inferno into an ethereal primal scream of jarring noises INTO a thumping bass-led psychedelic gyration. Another contrasting shining piece of work is “A Little God In My Hands,” which leads down a darkly groovy road of desolate dancing. If hell were a disco, this song would be on repeat eternally. That groove lasts throughout the entire song, although blasted by cacophonous horns, and it certainly never hopes to break or dwindle in its enthralling life.
To Be Kind has a priority theme in place throughout – the experience of living. In many ways, tracks expand from their bones and muscles into a full anatomy, pumping blood – until the end, where the body rests and reduces itself back to bones. It’s mindboggingly insane, but it places the listener in a very honest mood, pushing emotion into every abrasive riff and lasting drone. It certainly picks up on life’s cycles throughout the music, and while To Be Kind contains formulas, it expands them and makes each movement atypical in every moment. You’re never guessing and expecting, only being attacked with lovely surprises.
Gira screams, yelps, moans, and croons like a shaman from another dimension (or Tom Waits, oddly enough) in many songs, taking on a form that exists only within these recordings. In his own element, Gira orchestrates the entire band into a whole new kind of mode, evident with the 34-minute opus “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture,” especially. Gira’s performance on this LP deserves massive rounds of standing applause, and his vocal tracks prove his worthy existence into certain circles of the elite.
If you’re “forever lazy,” take the track “Oxygen” for a spin. You’ll have your neck broken, spine shattered, and your soul will exude in everlasting shame, because you’re not able to breathe after taking this one for a walk. “Oxygen” is simply the album’s most polarizing song; it contains so much energy that it presses firmly on the record’s themes and does a masterful primal scream for lasting effect. Gira screams about the essential slice of life – the air we breathe – and how he’s choking on his own life. At precisely the mid-point, the song snaps into a unrelenting blitzkrieg of willful insanity. It breathes for a moment – a moment that lasts much shorter than you need – and builds even more, adding loud horns and ferociously heading into oblivion.
To Be Kind is an album you absolutely must listen to if you’re even slightly curious about listening to an album that simply defines graceful lunacy. It writhes in physical and emotional pain, combines the most primal feelings into musical exposure, and releases a tyrannical tornado all over your brain’s perception. It is a whirlwind – a whirlwind that exudes music’s most gratifying experiences in years, if not decades. To Be Kind is simply the best Swans have ever made, and it is an experience some should have wished they could have over and over again. On the third day (or third album since their reformation), Swans rise like a phoenix with To Be Kind – over and over again.
Written by Dylan Tracy
OurVinyl | Contributor