Under the Radar Magazine | "To Be Kind" Review

Only when it's too late do you realize that "Screen Shot," the opening track on Swans' new magnum opus, is the sound of being stalked. Michael Gira begins calmly uttering a string of seemingly random words, and as they begin to take on a dark logic, his demeanor is that of one who has all the time in the world. By the end of the piece, the room seems drained of oxygen as the music has grown as a shrill, pounding presence and Gira's mantra becomes more direct: "Love now/Breathe now/Hear now."

The nine lengthy works contained in the 2-CD/3-LP To Be Kind require an investment of attention. But as with any engrossing film, time isn't a factor, and a full immersion reveals that any abridgments would have lessened these songs' impact. Moods and settings are carefully established, and as each track unfolds, it's never immediately evident whether the conclusion of any given odyssey will more likely be lyrically or viscerally climactic, or both.

All bets are off with the half-hour "Bring the Sun/Toussaint L'Ouverture," as the band begins a repetitive pummeling in its first few seconds and doesn't let up for a full two minutes. It's like starting a song with its closing crescendo, then again, over and over, seemingly dozens of times, before giving the listener enough air to realize that they're still at the beginning of a lengthy ride. Does this mean the payoff comes early? Hardly. In the track's closing minutes, Gira and company launch into what sounds like nothing less than the musical equivalent of the absolute dismantlement of the foundations of humanity. And yes, it's amazing. 

By Hays Davis