Review | Angels of Light | How I Loved YouThe embodied is loosened from its physical vessel The mid-'80s work of New York industrial-grind-rock templateers Swans was so singular and so devastating that it was inevitable that its creator's future work would be burdened with unfair expectations. But like Nick Cave, a contemporary with a similar reputation borne from extreme early work, ex-Swans leader Michael Gira has found a way out. Released this past spring, "How I Loved You" is Gira's second Angels of Light album since he disbanded Swans in 1997. Swans' apocalyptic monolithia (surely still the soundtrack for many a session in a dominatrix's dungeon) have been exchanged for acoustic and lap steel guitars, piano and accordion, sleighbells and ukulele; Gira is more likely to sigh now than to bellow, to hum rather than shriek. The Angels allow Gira maintain the aesthetic intensity and under-appreciated pitch-black sense of humor of his Swans work even as the volume has softened, the music's textures and melodies have edged toward meditative country and western, and the lyrics have bent nostalgic. With a few notable exceptions, brutalism is out here, and a more subtle, layered sensuality is in.
"How I Loved You" is made up of love songs. Or, actually, songs about loving someone from near or afar, and all that can entail: projection, jealousy, admiration, empathy, lust, surrender, subjugation. Even as these 'love' songs are rooted in specific historical coordinates or personages--young women in New York bars, Nico, Gira's mother, a teenage boy being raped repeatedly in an Israeli prison (there's that Gira humor)--the lyrics have a time-less, elemental quality to them: The city is a forest, the buildings are "towers of ice," the girls are "scattered crimson pearls." "And my fingers touched your two sleeping lips/as the echoes passed just above our heads/as the city flashed just beneath a cloud/that concealed the stars, that reflected sound/and protected us from an emptiness/and then drifted down, in a diamond mist," sings Gira in the albumÃ«s sumptuous opener, "Evangeline." The embodied is loosened from its physical vessel; the grossly material turns utterly transcendent; the prosaic is alchemically transformed. The Angels are at play.