The Colin’s Review Song of the Day for Monday, June 10, 2019, is Swans’ “A Little God in My Hands,” the third track from their 2014 double LP, To Be Kind.
When listening to To Be Kind, you operate on Swans time. The 2014 double-album is a two-hour avant-garde opus that stops the clocks and swallows you whole. Typical of Swans Mach II, songs will take five minutes to start and also five minutes to end, and even the 34-minute “Bring the Sun” features relatively little in terms of forward progression. There’s nothing else quite like it (besides other Swans albums). Bandleader Michael Gira has been a practitioner of post-rock BDSM his entire life, which is why the seven-minute “A Little God in My Hands” is his equivalent of a commercial single.
Beginning with an almost funky guitar riff and a 4/4 beat (or, in Swans time, probably 1/1), “A Little God in My Hands” starts out as one of the most rhythmically accessible songs in the band’s catalogue. That is, until Gira comes in with his Mumm-Ra voice and inverted Gregorian chant. Soon enough, we’re being blasphemed with references both Biblical and cosmic, sacred and profane. Whether it’s “Pink little lamb/on a granite slab” or “Oh universe/You stink of love,” the incantations are sung in Gira’s signature one-note melodies, enabling him to rhyme “ebb or flood” alongside “shit and blood” without thinking twice.
The catchy riffs, while not as aggressive as, say, “She Loves Us” or “Mother of the World,” still manage to pound us into submission via endless repetition. This is Swans’ specialty — therapeutic minimalist conditioning. When “A Little God in My Hands” devolves into a surrogate drone of brass and electronics, it comes as a moment of jubilant catharsis rather than unearned shock and awe.
It’s not often that a band releases their finest achievement 30 years into their career, but Swans have always transcended simple notions of time. It is as Gira exclaims: “I’M JUST A LITTLE BOY!!!”