SWANS: To Be Kind 2xCD, 2xCD/1xDVD, 3xLP Young God Records / Mute
I have friends who refuse to accept the return of Swans; a small misguided minority who insist that “Swans are Dead”.
This statement quoting the bands 1998 live finale is now recognised as a singular moment in time, since the reformation and release of 2010’s amazing ‘My Father Will Guide me up a Rope to the Sky’ and 2012’s mighty ‘The Seer’; and it is pathetic that a small few think this way. If anything, the reformation seems an inspired move considering the proper acclaim they’re now getting, that seems to have evaded them for so long.
2014 brings their latest studio record; and one, which all but matches the monstrous length of its previous relation ‘The Seer’. ‘To Be Kind’ is no less experimental, but contains the slightly more commercial (if you can call it that-because they’re anything but) edge, that will be lapped up by those listeners that were not brought up on ‘Filth, ‘Cop’ and so forth, like some of us older folks.
Swans reincarnation in 2010 included newer members to the fold, but under Michael Gira’s steady guidance, it is as though they were there right from the bands very early, no wave grass roots inception. There is a fluidity to this latest opus, maybe more so than we found on their last two albums and it’s a clear wonderful sign that Swans are here for the long hall with many a promising tail to be told and blistering live performances to crush our senses, to boot.
Gira sounds as fresh as a daisy; his unmistakable voice sounds as good as it ever has on tracks such as ‘Screen Shot’ and ‘A Little God in my Hands’; hell, it sounds amazing throughout this release. Musically, ‘TBK’ rolls from fluid and complex blues to raging insanity at the drop a hat and it’s to Swans credit that they can still produce mighty long tracks such as the ones on here that cover a varied range of styles; plus occasional wonderfully ludicrous moments that are as heavy as a sack of spanners. The key to Swans being so at the top of their game right now is that they’re still finding their range with listenable musicality, pronouncing what they have accomplished before with more originality and freedom maybe, than constraints they set themselves in their previous incarnation.
Any Swans release can be a challenge to review due to the complexities musically and the thematic scale of the ladder you have to climb; and maybe more so nowadays given the necessary length of such output. ‘To Be Kind’ is a raging behemoth that utilises cavernous amounts of harmonies, roaring and intricate percussion, flashes of grinding guitars, looping whirlpool bass, void filling ambience and songs that capitalise on an amazing vocal talent. I rarely (if ever) can say an album hits perfection, but for me this latest varied and accomplished release symbolises the word to the letter. One of the best albums I have ever heard from start to finish; period.