Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2014)

May 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Swans: To Be Kind

Swans: To Be Kind

The first 2 albums by the reunited Swans piqued my interest, but it wasn’t until I saw them live at the Magic Stick last year that I finally understood what was going on. I seriously felt like Swans was something that was missing from my life up until that point. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, easily. Late last year, the band released Not Here/Not Now, a limited 2CD live album documenting that tour, previewing nearly all of the songs on this album. This album takes the transcendental fury of their current live lineup/material and perfectly transcribes it to a studio environment, adding all sorts of flourishes and sounds (guest backup vocals from St. Vincent, Little Annie and Cold Specks, acoustic instruments, synth noise, laughter, sawing, horns) to their hypnotic compositions. The songs are generally repetitive and mantra-like, running words or phrases or themes into the ground, building them up and surrounding them with ecstatic noise. “Just A Little Boy” finds Gira doing his best Howlin’ Wolf impression (the song is dedicated to him), “A Little God In My Hands” is built on a stiff yet funky rhythm, and the half-hour “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture” is the logical continuation of The Seer‘s title track (and the two pieces join together to form one 45-minute towering epic on Not Here/Not Now). And as with their live shows and recent recordings, these long, drawn-out epics do not feel like they’re meandering or wasting your time, they are truly engrossing and enthralling, and you don’t even realize how much time is going by while you’re listening to them. The album does break from the maelstrom for one shorter (5 minute), quieter piece, “Some Things We Do”, a curious string-laden list of verbs, ending with an assuring chant of “we love, we love, we love.” Indeed, love and kindness are consistent themes here; not necessarily what you might expect if you’re familiar with the band’s early, physically violent incarnation, but it totally makese sense if you’ve traced their/Gira’s work from then until now. This is just truly ecstatic, life-affirming music, and there’s nothing I’m more excited about right now than seeing this band in Toronto next month.

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