Swans ‘To Be Kind’ Review; post-punk veterans follow-up masterwork ‘The Seer’ with similarly epic ‘To Be Kind’, which is sometimes too much of a good thing.
With 2012’s ‘The Seer’, noise-rock pioneers Swans did the unthinkable; they made their breakout album 3 decades into their career. They indulged all aspects of their legacy and expunged it into an epic double album sprawl. It was an immersive, if at times harrowing experience.
Now two years later, the band continue their lengthy sonic experiments with new album ‘To Be Kind.’
The 8 minute long ‘Screen Shot’ gets things off to a hypnotic blues skronk start, with its repeating skeletal pattern and droning thrum.
The follow-up ‘Just A Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)’ is a twelve-minute patience tester. A slow jazz shuffle leads you into a languorous stupor; bandleader Michael Gira’s lamentations starts off like a peaceful Buddhist proverb; “I sleep in the belly of truth/I sleep in the belly of kindness.” But things get unnerving with his cartoonish shriek “I’m just a little boy…I’m not human!!!!” His histrionics are augmented by the sound of sinister laughter.
The song pushes you in so many ways. It’s both disturbing and (unintentionally?) comedic. This template of bewildering, juxtaposing emotions extends to the full album, making ‘To Be Kind’ an equally captivating and frustrating listen.
There are moments of great beauty and brutality; ‘Some Things We Do’ is a gorgeous piece of hypnotic melody, and ‘She Loves Us’ is a throwback to old school Swans; background vocalist Jennifer Church conjures Jarboe while Gira croons lustily “Come to my mouth/Come to my tongue” The song’s tribal percussion and middle eastern timbre build to a fever pitch.
Gira has always been a frighteningly intense frontman, and he shows no signs of slowing down. On ‘Oxygen’ he commands “Feed me now!!” before descending into a vocal cacophony that sounds like a hybrid of speaking in tongues and a barking dog.
I guess what I’m trying to get at, is ‘To Be Kind’ can be exhausting. “Bring The Sun/Toussaint Overture” clocks in at 35 minutes…and it feels like it. Starting off with a seemingly endless drone it eventually builds into a noisy rock orgasm. From a musicianship standpoint it’s astounding, but it’s also overstimulation. It starts to smother you like a damp cloth allowing no respite.
This is true for much of “To Be Kind.” . While you have to admire a band so willing to indulge every sonic leaning it chooses to, it comes at a price. ‘The Seer’ was daunting, but became more accessible through repeat listenings, the method showing through the madness. After listening to ‘To Be Kind’ for more than a week, I still feel overwhelmed, disoriented, and still unsure of exactly how to feel about its unforgiving soundscape.
For an album to make me feel this way, is the definition of a challenging listen. And I can appreciate it…from a distance. Perhaps I’ll revisit it someday, but for now, I have to come up for air.
Want to own To Be Kind on iTunes or Amazon? You can order via the links below:
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