Angels of Light | How I Loved You | ReviewAt the core of Michael Gira's being, there is an urgent need for transcendence and love. Call it the soul, if you like; or call it the neurotic by-product of male sexuality. Gira would probably call it god albeit a god of his own making which reflects his registry of lofty ideals, applicable to all of humanity. Yet neither Gira nor anyone else in this world is without sins or blemishes when held in comparison to his own theology. In spite of his ultimate disappointment with humanity, in particular his own, he has anxiously waited, and sometimes violently pleaded, for providence - divine or otherwise.
When he conceived Swans 20 years ago, Gira proposed a direct assault to get to his spiritual essence with a blind rage aimed at the annihilation of the body. Without the body, he postulated that the soul could exist in perfect harmony with its ideal. The mistake in this hypothesis was in underestimating the connection between body and soul. Gira's humility has often qualified his command over Swans as a failure. This is obviously a hyperbole. Swans were a catalytic force that willed sound, action and life into existence. From those experiences, Gira has fashioned his complex mythology, which polarised divisions between misery and joy, ugliness and beauty, father and mother, salvation and damnation.
Perhaps in homage to what Swans meant to Gira, he effectively split its aesthetic in two: the soiled Ambient projects Body Lovers/Body Haters, and Angels Of Light, which centres around his talents as a singer-songwriter. Whereas the former is dedicated to evoking a response through psychoacoustic tension and sonic juxtaposition, the latter speaks more closely to Gira's personal god, as a unique mutation of the timelessness of country/blues storytelling and his solipsistic spiritualism.
True to its title, the second Angels Of Light album, How I Loved You, is a collection of love songs. It begins by speaking of love with elation in "Evangeline", as Gira pleads to his object of desire with the wistful innocence of a schoolboy. "Untitled Love Song" is his strolling duet with ex-Pain Teens singer Bliss Blood, both of them uncharacteristically full of sweetness and light. These are the most benevolent images of love Gira has to offer.
Thereafter he guides the album down a steep slope of sexual dependency, perverse lusts and a grizzled despair in which his body continuously betrays his mind's wishes to never have sex again.
From here on, How I Loved You follows similar patterns to the songs on Swans' Soundtracks For The Blind. Gira begins with a simple languid melody, then he steadily builds in complexity, continuously driving it into deeper, darker and more intense realms. "New City In The Future"- the album's 11 minute centrepiece - opens with an acoustic guitar strum, Gira offers a spacious simplicity which gradually submits to the increased volume from an orchestrated arsenal of organs, guitars and timpani, while its loose collection of fragmented memories moves freely between architecture and romance. Whenever a train of thought is lost or a metaphor collapses under its own weight, Gira growls "you were mine" as a mantra which intensifies into a bellowing howl by the conclusion. While "New City In The Future" might be addressing love lost, Gira could also be pining for his suffocating hole which, from his current position, may appear a better place than the lonely wisdom of a broken heart.
While the legendary masculine forces of Cash, Howlin' Wolf and Robert Johnson haunt this recording, Gira's orchestration also recalls Dolly Parton's recent return to bluegrass. Yet the muse that inspires and seduces Gira is far from the Disneyfied madame in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. She is a sexually explosive woman, at times the bloody, vengeful Salome, at others the nourishing, protective mother. She is the woman whom Gira loves, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the violence that she inflicts upon his soul, she has driven him to create many masterpieces, including this one.