Pitchfork Best New Track
Young God / Mute
By Stuart Berman; April 15, 2014
The latter-day Swans have become synonymous with a certain imposing sprawl, specializing in the sort of colossal, half-hour long pieces that require you to book off time in your iCal just to listen to them. By comparison, “Oxygen”, the second teaser released from the upcoming To Be Kind, is practically a pop single, not just for its relavite brevity (only eight minutes!), but its structural simplicity and jugular-clenching force. Forsaking the band’s usual ominous build-ups/breakdowns and carefully orchestrated chaos for sheer, unrelenting pig-fuckery, “Oxygen”—which shares a title, some lyrics, and absolutely nothing else with a 2010 solo-acoustic Michael Gira track—is the closest thing to a straight-ahead rocker the 21st-century Swans have produced. (And tellingly, it’s the rare To Be Kind track previewed on last year’s live set, Not Here/Not Now, that came out of the studio sounding just as filthy as it did in concert.)
It’s a reminder that, even as the scope of their albums turns evermore epic, Swans still belong to a tradition of deranged, debased punk that the connects the bruising attack of the Jesus Lizard’s “Wheelchair Epidemic,” the woof-woof feralism of the Birthday Party’s “Happy Birthday,” and the sax ‘n’ violence of the Stooges’ “Fun House.” “Feed me now!” Gira screams at the song’s precise half-way point, but “Oxygen” is a song about breathing that doesn’t give you any chance to do so.