Swans: To Be Kind

Formidable new album from the former noiseniks.

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Any word-association games involving New York’s Swans normally include the words ‘rape’ and ‘slave’, harking back to their early, gruelling output. However, group leader Michael Gira has repeatedly explained that was merely an initial stage in the group’s evolution, that they intended to do more than bleed eardrums.

To Be Kind is evidence that they continue to grow and may not have reached their peak yet. It’s superb for now, though.

From the remorseless, existential starkness of Screen Shot to the tolling swathes of She Loves Us, this is music that takes you deep, right down to the seabed, but hearkens back also to the elemental origins of rock – Just A Little Boy is a tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, a long, slow, nocturnal, uphill pilgrimage to the shrine of a bluesman. Meanwhile, the title track hints at an elegant reconciliation with life’s harsh, fundamental, strangely beautiful truths.

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.