Swans album review: ‘To Be Kind’


The group Swans will be performing in the Washington, DC area. (Owen Swenson)
May 9
SWANS
“To Be Kind”

Kindred spirits: Joy Division, Big Black, Sonic Youth

Show: With Jenny Hval on Wednesday at the Black Cat. Doors open at 8 p.m. 202-667-4490. www.blackcatdc.com. $20.

Four years ago, and after a 13-year hiatus, Swans frontman and mainstay Michael Gira assembled a new lineup for his New York no-wave band. The new band has been able to resurrect its
original post-punk/noise-rock intensity, and its three subsequent albums stand up almost seamlessly next to its original recordings.

But age has not made Gira succinct: The newest of those albums, “To Be Kind,” is a two-disc, two-hour recording. The shortest track is five minutes; the longest stretches for nearly 35. Like most Swans albums, “To Be Kind” is not for the faint of heart and can be described with many of the same adjectives as its predecessors: cacophonous, abrasive, ominous and brutal.

Still, Gira finds beauty in the darkness. Much of the album seeks solace in trance-inducing repetition. Whether Gira is chanting dryly (“Some Things We Do”) or yelping (“She Loves Us”), his voice is drenched with catharsis, taking listeners on a meditative journey fueled by repetitive instrumentation and Gira’s own weary voice.

Even on some of the more unsettling tracks — “Kirsten Supine” swells to a particularly menacing climax — Swans equally embraces the tension and the release. That underlying balance is what makes “To Be Kind” such an intriguing, and ultimately liberating, listen.

Catherine P. Lewis

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