Angels of Light | Preview | live at the Bowery BallroomMichael Gira certainly hasn't softened his outlook or lost his edge over the past 20 years. Two decades ago, he began strategizing the ultraslow, blast-furnace noise-rock of Swans, whose crushingly physical rhythms and guitar terrorism influenced generations of grindcore, industrial and postpunk warlords. These days, as the leader of the largely acoustic Angels of Light, he channels his energy into quiet, dis- turbing ballads that erupt into huge, sparklingly euphonic crescendos. But despite their superficially vast differences in style, both groups revolve around the same basic obsessions with hypnotic repetition, gut-wrenching emotional impact, sensually sooty lyrics and an attention to detail.
For proof, sample Gira's trio of 2001 releases on his own Young God label. The Angels of Light's second album, How I Loved You, strips down and improves upon the silken beauty, grim imagery and orchestral swells of the band's more sedate 1999 debut, New Mother. Whether Gira is reveling in the dreamy narco-bliss of "Evangeline," possessed by the spirit of a raped prisoner in the galloping "My True Body," or indulging his perversions to the percussive thrusts of "New York Girls," he brings increased immediacy to this recent collection of oedipal love/hate songs.
By contrast, humble introspection and playful, home-studio tinkering dominate What We Did, his casual collaboration with Dan Matz (of the Birdwatcher and Windsor for the Derby). Excluding a couple of unsubtle digressions into folk and country, the pair's soft psychedelia, spaced-out abstractions and stabs at warped pop radiate warmth, imagination and intimacy. Even less formal is Gira's exquisitely packaged Solo Recordings at Home, most of which use only six strings, one microphone and a character-filled voice.
The Angels of Light return to their hometown of NYC for the final date of their U.S. tour. Lately, they've been running through small-ensemble versions of music from the aforementioned releases. Gira, a well-known perfectionist, tends to rearrange and intensify his material for performances, so this set should be an exceptionally fluid and bewitching experience.