Some, Not All, of The Best of Last Year will be a very late series of posts of music, film, and other things that stood out above even the most exceptional in 2014. A best of list with no specific order or reason, much like the site itself. Just a compilation of more recent things to enjoy.
Swans are not a band for the faint of heart. I don’t even think they’re a band for the most hardened music fans. For 30+ years (give or take a hiatus), Michael Gira has been expounding this slow building visceral sound that refuses to give in to simplicity. Their return to recording My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky led to The Seer, a massive that was just under two hours of the darkest and most fascinating albums of 2012. To Be Kind at 10 tracks is a few minutes longer and darker. It’s a never ending void that means to take in everything that happens to come across it. There’s even a song inspired by Lars Van Trier’s Melancholia on here for god’s sake (“Kristen Supine”). Swans somehow one upped themselves and created an album that exists in a strange realm where apocalyptic darkness hides a sort of beauty that could only be birthed by the pain and fear it produces.
The opening track “Screen Shot” shambles along for a few seconds before building a body for itself, bit by bit adding new instruments are added to form the monstrous creature. It’s almost a spoken word piece listing of little actions of life, “Feed, breathe, touch, come”, before collapsing them away for an unrealistic utopia. “No pain, no death, no fear” Gira goes on, detaching these elements from life’s force before reaching more sinister removals of will, sleep, and dreaming. It’s a song at odds with itself, playing with your emotions until its final unabated repeating mantra flourishes, “Love! Now!/Breathe! Now!/Here! Now!”
The entire album can be summed up in these reoccurring moments of chanting, changing from time to time to illicit it’s unsurprisingly ambitious attempts to undermine the darkness inherent in the soundscapes. “Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Overture” urges for freedom, camaraderie, and more love (in French and Spanish for 34 minutes no less). “Some Things We Do” has Annie Clark and Gira listing off things done as a pair before falling to that same sentiment introduced in the first track. “We love/We Love” the sing together in the final moments of the song. Over and over these sentiments are seen throughout the album, forcing themselves into existence. Ultimately this album is about those desires most needed in life, no matter how hard it may be to admit. Every song aches for love and looks for a connection beyond itself. The eponymous song finishes off the album with the hope of being discovered, “To be found in the sound of this room”. Despite being covered in angry guitars and pounding drums that quake the firmest of grounds, To Be Kind finds itself reaching out to the listener with open arms. It’s a scary and relentless plea that at times seems more violent and menacing than welcoming, but I assure you, it’s all in good faith. All this album wants is a hug and a listen and you should fucking give it few.