NME Recommends | 'To Be Kind' Review 9/10

Swans - 'To Be Kind'

A disturbing, cacophonous onslaught from the veteran experimentalists

In 2010, after a 13-year break, Michael Gira resurrected his experimental post-punk outfit Swans. Avant-garde to the extreme, Gira’s music is an all-encompassing experience that somehow affects your entire sensory system. You don’t just hear it or listen to it, but feel it. This latest record is no exception. Take, for example, the disturbing apocalyptic onslaught of fourth track ‘Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture’ – the song’s punishing, pulsating form and unsettling hypnotic chanting, not to mention the samples of distant screams and whinnying horses that appear towards the end, conjure up images of a stark, post-Armageddon landscape, strewn with corpses. At 34 minutes, it's comparable in length to some full albums, including The Strokes' 'Is This It', The Beatles' 'Revolver' and The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds'. All offer a more relaxing way to spend that amount of time, though it's a mere fleeting moment in Swans' sprawling world.

Stretched across two discs, ‘To Be Kind’ lasts for two hours, its ten songs each mini-symphonies of discord and diseased unease. In addition to the above, four other tracks exceed ten minutes. The shortest, at just over five, is ‘Some Things We Do’, a gloomy incantation about the cycle of life that reduces humanity back to the bare essence of its animal nature. Elsewhere, opener ‘Screen Shot’ (which features backing vocals from St. Vincent) is a hypnotic swirl of psychedelic psychosis that swells into a cacophonous crescendo. ‘Oxygen’, meanwhile, is an intense, breathless barrage of jarring guitars punctuated by shouts and moans, while the title-and-final track is an ominous, elongated, unrefined death rattle that self-destructs in a horrifying explosion of dissonance.

'To Be Kind' is not easy or pleasant; it will probably repel and confuse as much as it inspires. It’s a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life, impossible to tear your eyes away from despite the grotesque atrocities it depicts. Because in the modern world, where The Human Centipede and Anal Cunt are a part, however small, of popular culture, this album still has the ability to shock and scare. It’s an insane and challenging, ambitious and exceptional work of art. 

Mischa Pearlman