Swans’ To Be Kind: Part Two
To Be Kind
After a successful triple album for Michael Gira, the only way to follow it up is to build yet another two-hour long triple album as opaque and as epic. “Screen Shot” starts things off with a relatively short (8 minutes) riff and idea repeated with lyrics negating all the essentials and the musical ideas expanding all around the voice and riff. It dramatically rises to deafening levels before falling into the abyss of the slow bluesy “Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett) which stretches out like a possessed Jim Morrison poetry interlude: “Now I sleep in the belly of woman / And I sleep in the belly of man.” “A Little God in my Hand” returns to the simple quasi-funk of “Screen Shot” and stretches out for 7 minutes. The interesting part about this is that it never feels indulgent. Despite its simple arrangement, it kind of just builds and builds until it spins out and feeds into the next track, the ridiculous 34 minutes of “Bring the Sun / Toussaint L’Ouverture.”
Those 34 minutes alone could be an album, with the “Bring the Sun” section having a slow rise and fall, characteristic of Swans’ later albums, and gracious unintelligible lyrics that are instrumental as they are orchestration. It goes through some intense twist and turns and then a screaming Gira comes out again and starts his Jim Morrison impression, screaming in French this time and coming to a destructive ending. “Some things We Do” ends the first cd on a mantra of sorts about banal activities humans do.
“She Loves Us” starts the second disk in a similar way as the first, building this time, for 17 minutes. Individual instruments never get solos, but the instrument becomes a puzzle piece in a larger arc. “Oxygen” is about as manic as Gira gets, with a single almost funky bass line playing over and over unadulterated screaming adding to the overall chaos. This is perhaps the most linear the songwriting gets, as there is almost no change to the first riff for the 8 minutes, with the rest of the band building around until there’s a pause and the riff starts again. It’s tedious, but it feels like another piece in the expanding puzzle of the album.
One thing that becomes clear through To Be Kind is that the tracks are not so much “songs” but more ideas. Unlike The Seer, which had fully fleshed out songs buried and padded with found sound, To Be Kind has most of the song ideas fully fleshed out in one motif, on guitar line, one repeated bass line etc. and then the rest of the band circles around that. One song that’s more fleshed out is the penultimate track “Nathelie Neal” that’s introduced in a style like The Seer, with swirling bells and found sound clips, before going into a very distinct brand of intense post rock, which actually has chord changes before washing into an acoustic guitar outro.
The last track “To Be Kind” feels like the culmination of a really long, dramatic movie. It starts with soft acoustic and Gira chanting about the stars and being kind and over before amping up the volume from 1 to 11 with a slow burn out and finishing at maximum volume. Looking back on this decade, The Seer and now To Be Kind will be looked upon as two of the most successfully ambitious albums in a world where good albums are a dying art form. It’s visionary, dense, and intense in the all the right ways.