The Arts Desk Album Review | Swans "To Be Kind"

Compelling career best from Michael Gira's veterans.


Anyone who is unfamiliar with Swans might reasonably assume that these veterans of New York’s early eighties “noise” scene to be well past their best by now. As powerful as Black Sabbath on steroids, Swans’ music has taken in industrial noise, art rock, gothic country and, since reforming as a going concern in 2010, brooding, apocalyptic mini-symphonies. To Be Kind is their 13th studio album, the band has been around (on and off and in various incarnations) for more than 30 years and, singer and bandleader, Michael Gira won’t be seeing his 60th birthday again. However, such an assumption would be wrong.

To Be Kind is the sound of a beautiful, primeval chaos that taps directly into the root without any unnecessary artifice and could quite conceivably be their best album to date. This is all the more incredible, given that it is over two hours long and spread over two CDs. In fact, to label To Be Kind merely as rock music would be doing the album a disservice, for it has as much in common with the orchestral pagan ritual of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as it does with “Jailhouse Rock”.

While To Be Kind takes its queues from Swans’ two previous albums (2010’sMy Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope To The Sky and The Seer from 2012), it has a more rootsy feel and could even be held up as a feral, blues masterpiece, coloured by menacing orchestral crescendos. There are occasional echoes of early Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground in tunes like “She Loves Us” and of the Birthday Party in “Oxygen” and even of Howlin’ Wolf in “Just a Little Boy”. However, To Be Kind is a unique and compelling piece of work that doesn’t resort to clichés of any kind. It could very well be an early contender for the best album of 2014.