My favourite album of 2012 was ‘The Seer’ by Michael Gira’s band Swans. To say that I was anticipating the release of ‘To Be Kind’ last year would be a profound understatement. For over 30 years Michael Gira has been producing some of the most experimental and interesting rock music that can be had. His solo work and colaborations, alongside his work his other band ‘Angels of Light’ and his albums with ‘Swans’, have all received great critical praise and attention.

To Be Kind is the Swans 3rd album since Gira resurfaced with the band after a break of 14 years. In 2010 they released ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky’, but it was with the release of ‘The Seer’ in 2012 that Gira really started to flex his musical muscles. The Seer was a six sided vinyl release with a running time of over 2 hours. The fact that it was almost exhausting to listen to in one sitting did not prevent it from increasing their fan base incredibly. This dark majestic masterpiece of immense scale was a hard act to follow. 

Never one to concern himself about the opinions of fans of the band Gira, nonetheless, appears here to have responded to people’s raised expectations. To Be Kind is just as massive in length, sound and power as its predecessor. The Seers cover is dark and foreboding whilst the cover of To Be Kind is lighter in colour and has pictures of children. Was this in someway meant to represent a lightening of approach and a more accessible sound. On listening to the music within one soon realises that accessibility in the Swans case comes at a cost.

The music that Swans produce can in many ways be seen as spiritual in its intensity and use of repetitive mantras. Here on this album this is profoundly the case with its massive sound and some really heavy crescendos. Like some kind of religious singalong with a much heavier and powerful instrumentation and focus. There is too within the songs a constant wave of tension leading to periods of release and this is carried out with precision and mastery. On this album the members of the band are obviously playing to their strengths and enjoying the experience.

The percussion and drums especially on this album play a significant role and are recorded clearly and with precision. They add power and heft to the long drawn out climaxes found in some of the longer tracks. There is also a wide ranging variety of instrumentation and sounds used by the band to provide a greater variety of textures within the songs. Its general heaviness does not in anyway prevent some of the songs becoming almost meditative and contemplative in their repetition and power. The overall high quality sound and production also help create a profound and overwhelming listening experience.

I have already purchased my tickets for the Swans gig in London in the Spring and cannot wait to see and hear this vital and powerful force of nature in the flesh for the first time. Those of you who know Gira’s work will, I am sure, already have this album. Those new to Swans, if they are prepared to take a leap of faith, will discover here a music that could prove to be both powerfully hypnotic and mesmerising.

Islwyn Paul Mainwaring

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