BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Apparently Swans was not done with epics after the gleefully excessive The Seer. To Be Kind, the third record from Michael Gira’s iconoclastic outfit since reuniting in 2010, is also a double CD set with several tracks clocking in at over 10 minutes, though only one passes the half-hour mark. All the better to dive ever more deeply into Gira’s psychospiritual brood of an imagination, where emotional states translate directly into musical sound and the doors of perception open to reveal whatever you choose to see.
Haunted and harrowing, “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett)” puts the Swans spin on the blues (not that you’d recognize it immediately). “Nathalie Neal” scans the most overtly rockist with its dueling guitar riffs, rattling groove and Mark E. Smith-like vocal dynamics. “She Loves Us” kicks off with a heavy beat and an old-fashioned chant before falling into cacophony and scree, eventually coalescing around a Gira rant and a motorik beat. Less dissonant rock than avant-garde classical music, “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Overture” tops out at 34 minutes, covering bluesy grumble, Tibetan moan, found sounds, feedback and Gira’s intense mutter and stentorian harangue – it’s almost the quintessential Swans track. (But doesn’t every Swans LP have one of those?)
Shorter cuts like “Oxygen” and “A Little God in My Hands” provide bite-size pieces for those not wanting to wolf down several meals at once. Admittedly, this is a lot to digest (some might say endure). But the only way to truly appreciate To Be Kind is to dive headfirst into the monsters. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they provide the clearest picture of what Gira and Swans are trying to do.
DOWNLOAD: “Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Overture,” “Nathalie Neal,” “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett”