To Be Kind is the thirteenth studio album by American experimental band Swans, released on May 12, 2014. It was released as a triple LP, a double CD, and a two-CD deluxe edition that includes a live DVD of performances from Hellfest Open Air Festival, Pitchfork Music Festival and Primavera Sound Festival, as well as a digital download. Critical reception of the album was very positive, continuing a string of well-received albums from the band. The album peaked at number 37 on US Billboard 200, and later debuted at number 38 on the UK Albums Chart. Both are the highest chartings that Swans had ever achieved on a studio album, and it is the first time that the band cracked the top 40 in both countries.
The album was produced by Michael Gira and recorded by John Congleton at Sonic Ranch, the world's largest residential recording studio complex, in Tornillo, Texas, 30 miles from El Paso and at Congleton's studio in Dallas. Swans began rehearsing at Sonic Ranch in October 2013 and began recording soon after, they finished mixing with Congleton in December in Dallas. Most of the music was developed while touring in 2012 and 2013. The album features special guests St. Vincent, Cold Specks, Little Annie and Bill Rieflin. On March 21, the song "A Little God in My Hands" and the album artwork were revealed. Bob Biggs did six images of babies' heads as artwork in c. 1976 that were used for the album.
Upon its release, To Be Kind was widely praised by music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from critics, the album received an average score of 88, based on 35 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Mark Deming of Allmusic gave the album a positive review, stating: "Michael Gira is a man unafraid to follow his muse wherever it may take him, and To Be Kind is another example of his singular vision writ large without compromise." Anna Wilson of Clash praised the album, describing it as "Karlheinz Stockhausen’s jarring classicism, Captain Beefheart's twisted blues, and the industrialism of Einstürzende Neubauten coalescing into a swirling musical miasma." She also stated that the album is "near perfection." Benjamin Bland of Drowned in Sound gave the album a 10/10 score and stated: "A two-hour odyssey of similar proportions to The Seer, this is an album that emphasises rather than establishes Swans' reconfirmed position at the top of the experimental rock tree, but that doesn’t make it any less of a thrill." He also further commented: "Now that this mission has been completed there is space for To Be Kind, and future Swans records to affirm, rather than prove, that Swans are, and perhaps always have been, the greatest rock group on the face of the planet." Writing for Rolling Stone, Kory Grow also compared this album to The Seer as well as the 1996 effort Soundtracks for the Blind, noting how Swans' sound has evolved so that they "don't just crush—they hypnotize".The Needle Drop gave the album a 10/10, making To Be Kind the second ever contemporary album to receive a perfect score from the site, after Death Grips' The Money Store.
Ross Horton of musicOMH gave the album a 5-star score, commenting: "Gira shows that the Swans resurgence isn’t a fluke." Stuart Berman of Pitchfork Media praised Gira's efforts on the album, stating: "He's responded in the best way possible: by producing a record that, in structure and scale, is every bit The Seer 's equal, yet possessed by a peculiar energy and spirit that proves all the more alluring in its dark majesty." Rory Gibb of The Quietus wrote: "By this point they've further coalesced into an inseparable entity: on To Be Kind we experience Swans as totality, all seething ebb and flow, crafting music that seems to breathe of its own volition." He also stated that the album's songs "feel more fluid and open-ended than before, expressive and rich in possibility." Colm McAuliffe of The Skinny also gave the album a positive review, stating: "Despite the two-hour plus running time, Swans appear to be – gasp! – enjoying themselves; they’re still staring into the abyss but the abyss is no longer staring back." He also noted that the album "displays much more diversity than its immediate predecessors." Louis Pattison of Uncut wrote: "Yet as the name suggests, To Be Kind does feature a quality hitherto rare in Swans: that of tenderness." He also further stated: "Michael Gira is not only still moving forward, but making some of the albums of his career."
Nevertheless, Jon Dennis of The Guardian was mixed in his assessment of the album, describing the album as "uncompromising to the point of overindulgence."