Swans, the musical entity under the direction of Michael Gira, was on hiatus for more than a decade. But after Gira’s Angels of Light venture ended in 2009, he revived Swans in 2010. To Be Kind is the band’s third studio album with its new lineup, which includes past members Norman Westberg and Christoph Hahn, in addition to Phil Puleo, Thor Harris, and Christopher Pravdica. Kind strides a middle ground between the pummeling, industrial style of Swans’ early Eighties material and the more melodious, folk-tinged, richly textured approach of later albums White Light From the Mouth of Infinity and The Burning World.
Opener “Screen Shot” is driven by a loping blues motif that the band gradually embellishes and punctuates with noisy bleats while Gira, in his deep, slightly Jim Morrison-esque voice, makes declarations (demands?) of love/breathe/here/now. The 34-minute medley of “Bring the Sun” and “Toussaint L’Ouverture” begins with merciless repetition, but instead of the atonal grind of old, it’s borne along with orchestral, almost symphonic grandeur, which alternates between Gira’s sparse, almost hymn-like wailing and the sounds of neighing horses, until all strands merge into one. The cumulative effect is both exhausting and cathartic. “Some Things We Do” is a duet between Gira and Little Annie (aka Annie Anxiety), their velvety harmonies sounding like Sonny and Cher in hell as they coo a litany of human behavior while tortured strings wail behind them: We hunt/we hurt/we seize … we kill, we love, we love. Yes, Gira’s lyrics are as harrowing as ever — he’s a worthy heir to the mantles of Morrison and Leonard Cohen. (Young God)