Luna Kafé e-zine  Luna Kafé record review
coverpic flag US - New York - Full Moon 218 - 06/13/14

To Be Kind
Young God/Mute

With their roots going back to the days of the New York no wave scene, Michael Gira and his Swans have been going on for ever, almost, for over 30 years. However, they did take a 'break' in 1997, when Gira dissolved the band for a solo break. He also took on a different direction with with his Angels of Light project, which is a more acoustic-based band than the Swans was/is. Akron/Family has served as Gira's backing band, and Gira's been sort of a mentor and label manager for the Ak/Fam lads. Now the Swans are back, with their third studio album following their 2010 reunion. Like an ugly duckling forever.

To Be Kind (Swans' thirteenth studio album) follows their highly praised 2012 album, The Seer, which featured guest vocals/instrumentation from Karen O (from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker (of Low), members of Akron/Family, Ben Frost, Grasshopper (from Mercury Rev) as well as former Swans member Jarboe. The personnel this time are the band counting Gira (vocals, guitars) plus mainstay Norman Westberg (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals), Christoph Hahn (lap steel guitars, electric guitar, vocals), Christopher Pravdica (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals), Thor Harris (drums, percussion, etc,), and Phil Puleo (drums, percussion, dulcimer, piano, keys, vocals). Among the special guests this time we find St. Vincent, John Congleton (who's co-produced the album along with Gira himself), Bill Rieflin, Little Annie, and more.

I've always tried to get into, or inside the musical world of the Swans - for years and years, as did I with The Seer. Now, I'm on and all over this new one as well. Trying to get to the core of it. Gira and Swans create fascinating, spellbinding, and massive soundscapes. Frightening stuff, horrifying scenes, spooky movements, ghostridden stories, grim darkness. It's an eternal fight: man vs. nature, where nature always wins. About the band's long break Gira said: "I had been doing this band Angels of Light for thirteen years, and had reached a kind of impassivity with that, sorta like I had reached an impassivity with Swans when I initially stopped it."

Gira is one massive creative dark soul and a true experimental master mind. This is music and sound heavily rooted in the dark, industrial 1980s. Think back to the moods of Blixa Bargeld's Einstürzende Neubauten, or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Or rather Cave's old Birthday Party. Or further back, and beyond. Back to goth. Back to no-wave. This is the original soundtrack for some gloomy doomsday. To Be Kind is a harsh listen. This is not music for the faint-hearted, nor for the slick-minded. It takes guts to come through this two-hour monster of music. The album holds 10 tracks only, but most of the songs stretch out for 8-10-12 minutes, like cool opener "Screen Shot", "Nathalie Neal", "Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett)", "Kirsten Supine", or the powerful title track, while the explosive, epic bulldozer "Bring The Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture" ("François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803), nicknamed The Black Napoleon, was the leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into the independent state of Haiti. The success of the Haitian Revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World." clocking in at 34 minutes! Amazing! Mindblowing stuff! Hold on to your ears. And to your mind. And to your body, as well. While Gira screams his lungs out. See the darkness rise. Wait for the sun to rise to beat the darkness in the end.

In my opinion The Seer rank above To Be Kind. Two hours of music is a heavy load for sure! The Seer clocked in at a few seconds less than two hours... It's quite an exhausting mass of sound to consume. You have to take some time. That said, this is music and compositions growing on you, creeping up on you, coming at you - from every/any angle. Maybe when/while you're sleeping...

Listening to Swans' To Be Kind is like going up-river on a patrol boat trip mission searching for Colonel Kurtz. "I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. That's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and surviving. The horror.... The horror... The horror..."

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