Swans – “A Little God in Our Hands”

Swans – “A Little God in Our Hands”

Coming off of the primal and anthemic sounds of The Seer, I expected Swans’ “A Little God in Our Hands,” from their upcoming LP To Be Kind, to begin much the same way most of their post reunion-era work has. Between “Lunacy” and “No Words/ No Thoughts,” I expected bells, chanting, the sounds of a band building a temple of noise and discord ready to blow at a moment’s notice. Instead, Michael Gira and the rest of the band start things simply – guitar and drums. Three notes, one consistent beat.

As the first minute comes to a close, though, things come to form. Chirping guitars and maracas follow Gira’s elongated howls, until finally the studio just seems to blow. A platoon of woodwinds appear out of nowhere, and for nearly thirty seconds blow to exhaustion. Listening closely, you can hear the instruments falling down and struggling to keep up.

After the deceptively simple start, Swans shows the meticulously constructed song suites which have become their staple. No chorus, no bridge, only a band building itself up from one piece to become countless more. By the time the song ends, what began as a simple rhythm has slowly burst into a mantra of singing, chanting voices, horns, drums, guitars, pianos, electronics failing to keep together, and who knows what else. Hearing each piece descend into the fray can only be described as every audiophile’s dream. It is the kind of build-up that has long justified the band’s name – majestic and beautiful from afar, but vicious and ill-tempered up close.

Ever since returning from a 15 year hiatus to release My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky in 2010, Swans have sounded like a different band, incorporating jazz, psychedelia, and tribal rhythms on top of the hypnotic and metallic repetition of their earlier material. Listening to “A Little God in Our Hands,” you can hear the pulsating sounds of “Why Hide” or “Another You,” but now they lay buried at the core of Swans sound, not at the forefront. In many ways, it has made this iteration of Swans sound like an entirely different band – but very much for the better. “A Little God in Our Hands,” and To Be Kind, seem poised to continue this trend.