Swans - To Be Kind

by D R Pautsch Rating:8 Release Date:2014-05-12

Just imagine, if you will, there was a blueprint for being a successful band. Swans would throw it in the bin, wouldn't they? After burning it, finding the publisher, removing all traces of the book ever being written and published and then finding every owner of the book and removing it from them by hook or by crook. 

Swans not only ran away from a major label one album in but then stopped recording for 14 years. They then released an album of original material and followed it up with a career-best, two-hour-long magnum opus. They became the darlings of the music aficionados through all this and then releaseed this, their 13th album, to further defy logic and any predictability.  

That this album contains a 34-minute centrepiece, a song which has just the noise of a strumming chord amid drums for two-minutes-30-seconds at the start, the sound of horses in the mix, and a song inspired by Kirsten Dunst is head scratchingly wonderful. That all these things sound like a disaster is obvious. That it isn't is extraordinary.

Each track here is a thing of painstaking thought. Building from humble beginnings to an hurricane of noise, dying away and then returning, each track feels like two or three put together.

Take 'Some Things We Do', for example, which at just over five minutes is by far the shortest track on offer here. Finger-picking starts the track before a spoken chant takes over with a brooding backdrop. It builds into a moment of noise before dying away with the repeated refrain of "We love".

It sounds at times like The Velvet Underground decided to get seriously noisy, team up with David Lynch and stretch the boundaries of what can conceivably be called music. It's not that it's unlistenable; it's very listenable; it's very good. It just demands you to listen. It makes you beg for its secrets and its sense. 

In a world of MP3, goldfish attention-spans and celebrity, this is an alarming and wonderful counterpoint. Perhaps that's why it's so good. It just wants to take what is perceived as good and punch it in the face.  

The momentum, inventiveness and completely original approach here means Swans have made yet another album to be admired and eventually, after much pain and time, loved. Thank goodness they returned.

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