Daily Archives: May 14, 2014

Thirteen albums in and Swans are showing no signs of taking it easy



I would have loved to have been at the meeting when Swans presented To Be Kind to the label for the first playback. “Here it is” Michael Gira would have said. “Cool. Let’s start this playback now then” the A&R exec would reply. An intern would press play and the opening hypnotic notes of Screen Shot would start. Heads would nod and positive expressions would be passed. After the first song the exec would check the running order and realise that it’s only ten tracks long, then exec would do a double take and realise that the running time is over two hours. “Cancel all my other meetings today” he would tell his PA “This might take a while”.



And take a while it does. Lasting just over two hours it is a bit of a daunting listen, but Swans have never been about taking the quick route or easy listening. Michael Gira formed the band in 1982. He used the moniker because “Swans are majestic, beautiful looking creatures. With really ugly temperaments” How right he was. The name is very fitting to the music. Having grown up in an area where there was a large swan population I know first, second and third hand how gentle and aggressive this creatures can be. The band worked and played hard, and over the years developed cult like status among music fans. In 1997 after 10 albums Gira decided to end the band. In 2010 Gira reformed the band and they have gone from strength to strength since. To Be Kind is their third since the reformation.



“What is the album like?” I hear you ask. This may sound contradictory but what I really like about the album is also one of its major flaws. Because the songs are quite long (the shortest two being five and seven minutes long) they are allowed to development at their own pace, the ideas and themes are fully realised. However after halfway through you are looking at your watch to see how much time is left. I never thought I would ever say this, but 30-40 minutes could be shaved off this and it would still be brilliant. Bring the Sun/Toussaint L’Ouverture could easily be cut in half and no one would really notice.



In truth there are two albums here. The first five songs are more upbeat and dare I say ‘poppy’. Screen Shot and A Little God in my Hands are almost catchy at times. The last five are harder and more experimental in nature. This isn’t to say that they lack melody or charm, they do, but it is a harder listen. When you get to the end you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Just like Philip Glass’s beautiful, but harrowing Einstein on the Beach. This isn’t an album that I would play on a regular basis. In fact I may never have the mood to play it again, but I am glad that I have. I feel that parts of this album will stay with me forever. If you’d let it, To Be Kind would get under your skin and be a part of you. It’s a powerful piece of music and that can’t be diminished by any amount of feedback, wailing vocals or 30 minute song.



So we’re back at the playback session, the album has just finished. The room is uncomfortable silent. The exec looks around the room. Other exec’s, heads of label’s, A&R minions and marketing types are all there. They all want to speak, but don’t want to go first. Finally the exec says “Its good.” The room explodes in people exalting praise. Michael Gira doesn’t care though. He never has cared what people made of this music. This is what separates him from his peers. He’s made the opus that was in his head and now he’s getting ready to go on tour again.



If Swans are playing near you GO! It will be a night you won’t forget. Swans are not some art rock project, they are a proper band who make music from the heart. This is why they have been going for 32 years. The continuing desire to experiment and push boundaries is what they do best. I wish there were more like Michael Gira around today!






Swans – A Little God In My Hands



May 2014






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