Angels of Light | Press Clippings | Series 1
HERE IS A RANDOM COLLECTION OF PRESS, MOSTLY RELATED TO THE (previous) ANGELS OF LIGHT RELEASE HOW I LOVED YOU. There's a few very early reviews of Everything Is Good Here at the beginning. This file is NOT IN STRICT CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, AND I
Angels of Light
Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home
[Young God; 2003]
To a certain extent, most of us are still living sheltered lives, insofar as we rarely confront our spirituality, reject our families, or cross our internal lines of social decency. Beliefs and codes vary from person to person like wardrobes, but very few people are willful, foolish or terminally self-aware enough to defy their own. Cultural expectations-- "absurd and malignant" or otherwise-- have sway, and the precious, indecent few who manage to outrun them are generally viewed as outcasts or criminals (though sometimes, as prophets). Aside from whatever law they break, criminals rob us of our conventions: through acts of violence and upheaval, they force us to confront our boundaries. For some, ignoring the tenuous line between right and wrong is an easy feat, but for others, personal demons are as controlling as any backlog of cultural norms. From the sound of Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home, Angels of Light (and Young God figurehead Michael Gira) may yet have demons to master, and boundaries to set.
Gira broached straightforward indecency long ago, via his most infamous and acclaimed project, Swans. In the mid-80s, when even the most ruthlessly earnest punks were only beginning to come to terms with a "responsible" definition of anarchy, Gira and then-partner Jarboe were speaking--sometimes literally-- of masochistic torture and humiliating, brutal sex, over drastically compressed drones and industrial propulsion. When the decade closed in an alternative rock flourish, Swans thrust forward by leaps and bounds: Love of Life, The Great Annihilator and especially Soundtracks for the Blind predicted Godspeed You Black Emperor! and all manner of dark-ambient music, though thematically, Swans still seemed to equate God with a dominatrix. Gira's post-Swans (read: post-Jarboe) folk collective, The Angels of Light, matches his previous band's penchant for mythic grandeur, with more muted dynamics, if not sentiment. Everything Is Good Here is their third release, and it's as disturbing as it is wonderful.
According to Gira, the album is a response to various personal, historical and political disasters. In some ways, that cryptic declaration takes the edge off the songs, as without pretense there's vast room for interpretation in his lyrics. Where "Palisades" might read as a particularly bitter response to suicide-- "Reasons won't come/ And no one will regret that you're gone"-- it could as easily lament claustrophobic personal terror: "Do you see how they ruined your mind? Do you see how they ruined your life?" Gira's smoke-stained baritone barely carries the words over acoustic guitar and delicate bell-tones, though later he verges on overtaking a serene arrangement of church bells and a children's choir. The altogether peaceful "Kosinsky"-- with its deft, gently strummed electric guitar and bright fiddle motif-- initially reads as a tender love song; Gira's description of hair like "translucent, liquid light" and the "rhythm of your breathing" seem poignant, though he again blurs boundaries by admitting he looks on his love with "the eyes of an animal."
The textural range of Everything Is Good Here lends an epic, almost timeless quality that goes a long way toward fleshing out Gira's often-mythological way with words. "All Souls' Rising" features impressions of pagan ritual, and self-purification via "the cull of foreign bone" and forcing "the blue smoke in... [to] fill the sack of skin." The relentless hammer of drums and murky stew of bass, organ and guitar-- not to mention Gira's own droning war cries-- conjure scenes of violent sacrifice and the chaotic laws of a still-dominant Earth.
Contrarily, the midtempo, near-Beatles "Sunset Park" reveals little in its single repeated line, "She brings some/ She'll bring one," but betrays a brilliant optimism in Gira's simple, dignified melody, and wall of shimmering guitars. Later, on "Wedding", an extended, gently strummed introduction is offset by ominous brass tones and the dissonant children's choir, giving way to Gira's rugged moan. The choir caps each phrase with angelic harmonies, quite removed from the intentionally grotesque sound of Swans, or even scattered moments on this album. As a whole, Everything Is Good Here is at once breathtaking and, like a great many Gira releases, simply too much.
The overwhelming impression is one of acceptance and redemption, despite repeatedly bleak (or at best, mysterious) narration from Gira. The production helps, but digging deeper into its lyrics, it seems that, rather than prolong an inner struggle, Angels of Light seek salvation. "What Will Come" openly requests that God "save us... from what will come," though it's difficult to reconcile Gira's leap of faith after an album's worth of explicitly self-empowering, judgmental narrative, clouded by contradiction. Nevertheless, music that resonates with as much emotional weight and vital abandon is rare, and though I'm less inclined to look for answers in the mix than revel in its chaos, Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home is a commendable, heady experience.
-Dominique Leone, January 21st, 2003/www.pitchforkmedia.com
Jim Knipfel/THE NEW YORK PRESS
JANUARY 22, '03
Everything Is Good HereÂ
Angels of Light
Since the Swans broke up after 1996's Soundtracks for the Blind, Michael Gira has remained one of the busiest men in music. His Brooklyn-based label, Young God Records, has released dozens of albums by an international collection of jazz, rock, noise, folk and experimental groups. He's repackaged several old Swans records, released a spoken-word album and recorded his own music with a variety of musicians and under a variety of monikersÂ‹the Body Lovers, the Body Haters and Angels of Light.
Each post-Swans bands had a different attitude. The Body Haters was pure,
rabid noise. The
Body Lovers was noisy too, but more refined. Of them all, Angels of Light remains the most
direct descendant of the Swans, continuing along the same trajectory the Swans were following when they broke up. That is to say, the songs on this third Angels of Light album bear no resemblance whatsoever to early Swans recordings. There are tunes here, and real singing, and more traditional song structures (and all the songs come in at under seven minutes). There are plenty of acoustic numbers, too. Not to say that there aren't the occasional howls and explosions of sharp noise and untuned guitarsÂ‹but there's plenty else going on there as well.
Gira's working here with a massive array of musicians, playing not only
the traditional guitars and percussion, but piano, violin, banjo, mandolin,
dulcimer, keyboardsÂ‹and a multitude of sound effects.Though I certainly
hesitate to use the word "delicate" when it comes to describing any
project, it almost works here. No, instead of "delicate," let's say "complex." There. That's better.
Lyrically, Gira remains unmistakable. On the surface, as words alone, they seem simple enough. Sometimes dark, sometimes simply obscure, sparse portraits, usually of women, usually loaded with vague but very physical descriptions. But once the words are laid beneath the music (and once Gira begins intoning them), they take on an entirely different quality. They become songs full of sadness, distance, dread and longing. Sometimes full of melancholy beauty, as in the opening number, "Palisades"Â‹and sometimes full of rage, as in "The Family God," which ends with Gira screaming, "Give me some more!" over and over. They're songs guaranteed to take even the best mood in the world and drive it skull-first into the pavement.
There are times when it's difficult to tell when one song ends and the next beginsÂ‹but oddly, that's okay. There's always been an hypnotic quality to Gira's work, evident even in the earliest Swans recordings. It's always seemed that they aren't songs he's writing so much as incantations.
With this latest album, Gira proves again that he's a rarity amongst
musicians (especially of the underground variety). He's been able to go
from fronting the Loudest Band in the World (which sometimes seemed to be that
way for the sheer sake of being the Loudest Band in the World) to fronting
one of the most interesting, subtle and intelligent experimental ensembles
around. And for all that, they're still mighty grim!
Volume 16, Issue 4
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â .
Issue 12, January 2003
The Angels of Light, Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home
by Dave Heaton
The world of The Angels of Light is a dark, harsh one, with betrayal, sadness
and confusion lurking in the hearts of everyone. Their last album,How I Loved
You, was almost too dark for me to take, like a slow march towards an ending
that you know isn't going to be a happy one. Everything Is Good Here/Please
Come Home is at least as dark, yet somehow it's less
depressing than inspiring.
While M. Gira, who is The Angels of Light, is treading on similar lyrical and musical ground, the album has a joyous intensity about it. Something in the music, in his singing, in the way the songs were performed and recorded, fills you with adrenaline, even when the songs move at a snail's pace, as they sometimes do. In some places, the extra vigor is at least partly due to a more expansive sonic palette, including not just somber guitar and piano but vibes, dulcimer, percussion horns, flutes, violin and a variety of other sounds and voices. An assortment of guest musicians-everyone from other Young God musicians like Devendra Banhart and David Coulter to Kid Congo Powers and a children's choir-lend the album a festive feel, even when the subject is murder. The album also has musical arrangements that are full of surprises. A chorus of voices or a wave of harsh noises is likely to crash through the song in mid-verse. All of this gives the album a current of electricity that makes it resemble some sort of Sunday gospel brunch, even when the moods swing towards the furthest opposite side of town. And whether he's growling a Howling Wolf-meet-Birthday Party rave-up that sounds like party-music for a late-night blood orgy at Dracula's mansion or singing a gentle guitar-and-harmonica folk ballad, Gira has true presence as a singer. He drives his words right into your skull. His words hold nothing back, either. They mercilessly rip into the lives and souls of the people he's singing about, as on the first song which ends with the not exactly hope-filled line, "Reasons won't come, and no one will regret that you're gone." Gira's songs deal with people and their desires-for power, love, comfort, sex-in a stark, haunting way.
By the end of Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, you might trust that the second half of the album's title is more heartfelt than the first, but you won't want to throw yourself off a bridge either. Bad music is depressing. The best music can look clear-eyed into the darkest side of humanity without flinching. Afterwards you feel not sad but revitalized.
1/1/2003 | BBGUN MAGAZINE, ISSUE #6 | Bob Bert
Michael Gira | Interview
New Mind Of A Young God
The first time I went to see this band, that I would later join called Sonic Youth in 1981 at the Mudd Club, I was first slammed into a new stratosphere by the opening band, Swans. The line-up then was Michael Gira and Thurston Moore both pounding basses in singular slow extremely loud harmonics, Jonathan Kane playing a double bass drum humongous kit, Roli Mosimann playing a metal table with a thick deadly chain, and a butch guitar player (Sue Hanel) whose sound can only be described as two brontosauruses fucking. The slow throbbing thunderous roar coming from that tiny stage with lyrics such as "getting taken to the basement, getting fucked to ease some tension" scared even the downtown trendies of the time running holding their ears. Mike lived in a windowless bunker on 6th and Ave B with empty 40-ouncers and photos of men hanging from the ceiling from meat hooks adorning the walls. This is where both Swans and Sonic Youth started out rehearsing. Both bands crammed into one van with a U-Haul and headed down south and then to the Midwest to attempt to convert the masses. What the fuck were we thinking? I remember Michael leaning over bodies in the van to punch out his drummer, while calling him a pussy, me trying to get out of a dressing room,while Sue the guitar player was throwing full cans of Bud at his head, yelling - NEVER TOUCH MY AMP!! This was the same night that he jumped off the stage, mid set, to pummel some idiot for pogoing. Witnessing those early Swans shows were the only time that I could, actually, feel the insides of my body moving from the power of the volume. Despite his difficulties dealing with a lot of people, we always got along. I could never figure out why, although, I always appreciated his art and hard work ethics. He did corner me and gave me shit once, after the band that I had recently joined in 1986 (Pussy Galore) had appeared in Vanity Fair because of Julie's socialite family calling them rich brats ... and he had to put up sheet rock for six years before he could make his first record. I just laughed. Anyway, it was great to get together with an old friend and find out what fed the fire. Michael Gira has never stopped applying the hard work ethic to his music/art and keeps releasing great passionate records. Check out his brilliant book of short stories called The Consumer. Through his label Young God Records, he has also made available records by bands such as Calla, Flux Information Sciences, Angels of Light (post Swans project) and many others and has worked with U.S. Maple. www.younggodrecords.com.
BB: What was your childhood like growing up in LA?
MG: I grew up in sort of an affluent suburb of LA called Palos Verdes, which is in the Bay Area, on the beach. That was in the sixties. In the early days of my life there, I was little Lord Fauntleroy. Really the high life. My Dad was a successful international businessman and my mother was the ideal American housewife. Then my Dad left my mother and she descended into alcoholism big time; drank up all the money, lost the house.
BB That bad?
MG: Oh yeah! Totally, like pissing in her pants bad. One of my earliest memories is going to a supermarket with her and she was wearing a mink coat open with just her nightgown underneath, and she pissed in the supermarket while I was there. Then the sixties happened and there were all the drugs and the hippies around, so I started hitchhiking down to this place called, Hermosa Beach, where all the hippies and bikers hung out. I started taking drugs really early on like around twelve years old. It was sunny California... yet, in the midst of all the stuff that was going on... I was listening to the Doors, the Seeds, Love and Blue Cheer, when all that happened. Taking huge amounts of drugs, too.
BB: Did you see any of those bands?
MG: Yeah, I saw Blue Cheer but I hardly remember it, I was on acid. In retrospect, I could have done things better, not taken drugs, gone to school and become a lawyer. I guess drugs changed me quite a bit, especially, starting to take them at such an early age. I got arrested. I had a pocket full of seconal. I had been arrested for vandalism, theft, shoplifting, curfew. I was always out breaking into houses, spray-painting Cadillacs... all the usual stuff. I had been arrested several times and kicked out of school. I was expelled from junior high school. Then I got caught with a pocket full of reds and the police said that either I was going to spend time in juvenile hall, up until my 18th birthday, or I was going to live with my father because my mother was incapable of taking care of me. So, he flew out and took me first to South Bend, Indiana. He was setting up a factory there for this big corporation called Bendix. I lived a hellish year in South Bend, Indiana, which is really a white trash horrible place.
BB: That's where Notre Dame is.
MG Notre Dame's there, that's a good thing. My Dad was friends with the professors and stuff there, but the general vibe of the place... I still think Indiana is an armpit. We stayed there for a year and then he got a business offer in Europe. We were in Paris and he was working for ITT or some other big corporation. In his initial early days, he had his own aircraft parts company with my uncle and they lost that through some kind of merger. Then he became a business consultant. He was over there in Paris and I was a drugged out hippie constantly battling his attempt to apply authority to me. We were staying in some hotel in Paris and I was hanging out with the hippies panhandling, which I didn't need to do and taking drugs, then I ran away. I hitchhiked with a bunch of hairy, ugly hippies up to Amsterdam, but on the way... somehow I stopped in Belgium, at this big rock festival. I think it was 1969. With thousands of other hairy, ugly hippies in the mud, we watched some really great groups like Pink Floyd right in the era of Umma Gumma doing "Careful With That Axe Eugene" and songs like that.
BB: I saw that show in Passaic NJ... we are like the same age. After Umma Gumma they turned into the worst band in the world.
MG: Yeah, but up until then they were great. The Chicago Art Ensemble, who were booed off the stage by the hippies. I'll never forget it because I was on acid, of course, and I was really enjoying it. Then suddenly it was like boooo and I saw Frank Zappa and Amon Dull, as well. In my dealings with Laswell, he told me it was a famous festival because it mixed jazz and stuff. We continued with our hippie sojourn up to Amsterdam. I was sleeping in abandoned buildings there and I ended up getting arrested for vagrancy and spent a couple weeks in jail there. As it turns out, my father knew I was in jail [there] and said ÂŒjust leave him there and teach him a lesson.' After I got out, I relocated with my father to Germany, but he left me in the care of his second wife's aunt. He offered me a choice of either going to this school in the Swiss Alps for the children of business people, diplomats, etc....or going to work in this factory. So, of course, being brilliant, I chose the factory. He thought I'd last a couple months and then agree to go to school. After a year of working in the factory... it was a tool factory in Germany... he came to me and told me I had to get with it and go to school. Then I ran away. I hitchhiked across Europe. I had saved a couple hundred bucks, enough to buy a plane ticket in advance from Istanbul to Israel. I hitchhiked with some hippie friends down from Istanbul through Greece and Yugoslavia, it took like three weeks to a month. I arrived in Israel pretty much penniless. I stayed on a kibbutz for about three months, until I got kicked off for sending hashish through the mail. These older hippie guys had this brilliant plan that you would take these bricks of hashish and cut it into thin strips and put a postcard on either side and then put it in an envelope and write - careful do not bend, photos enclosed. (laughing) We're sending these out from the kibbutz and the police came and everything and I ran, I escaped to the woods. I dug up the hash, that I had buried out in the woods and took it to Jerusalem. I was selling it in Jerusalem and I got busted. The police just walked into this hostel while I was selling it and they arrested me. I ended up spending a month and a half in jail in Jerusalem. They didn't charge me, they just kept me in a cell. This civil rights lawyer found out about my case.
BB: Was it really hellish like that movie Midnight Express?
MG: It wasn't like that but it was bad. I was in a cell with other vagabond Westerners. They did this thing where they had a stick and you would tie the persons hands to their feet and insert the stick in the hole there and then swing them and beat them or burn the bottoms of their feet with cigarettes to find out information about bombs. I remember, at that time, they had bombed a school bus and a university cafeteria.
BB: Then what?
MG: Then I got out, finally, after a month and a half, released without bail. Hung around Jeruselum, still panhandling and hanging out. I went to trial and spent another two months in prison. They put me in a adult prison, brilliantly, I was fifteen going on sixteen. I didn't even have pubic hair (laughing). But fortunately it saved my life, It was, basically, haphazard circumstances that ended up protecting me. I was in this place that was a converted prison barracks. The area that I stayed in was with the hippie vagabond types that had been arrested for drugs and stuff, although, we shared it with Arabs, too. I came close to getting raped once but didn't. I witnessed a lot of horrible things there and then got out. I spent about a year total in Israel. Then I survived for a while working in the copper mines 12 hours a day, 5 days a week and made about $10 a day. I was still trying to save money. My father had Interpol and all these people out looking for me this whole time. Finally, he tracked me down. I got on a plane after a year and went back to Germany. Finally, he said ÂŒI can't deal with you' and sent me back to California. I lived there for a while, and didn't go to school. I tried to go back to 10th grade but it was so surreal after all the stuff I'd been through.
BB: Who were you living with then?
MG: My mother, she had, temporarily, stopped drinking. So, I went to this suburban high school in Torrence, California. She descended down from Palo Verdes to Torrence, which was more working class. I was in this middle-class high school, surfer culture, which was really surreal. I quit high school and lived a year or two doing various dumb jobs like working in a plastics factory. Then I became a roofer's apprentice, a plumber's apprentice, all these different trades. It didn't suit me so I took a high school equivalency test and past it. I went to junior college and studied art. Then I went to Otis, which is where I met Kim Gordon. I was convinced that I was to be an artist. Then this scorch of the earth... punk rock happened. I went to this, really, famous concert at the Elks Lodge or Veterans' Hall, right near Otis... the Screamers, X, Germs, all these really great groups. I was video-taping it for school and I was on stage. I was, completely, enthralled and loved it.
BB: Whatever happened to that videotape?
MG: God only knows. Just around then I published this magazine called No Magazine, I don't know if you remember that.
BB: Yeah, I do.
MG: This friend of mine, Bruce Calberg and I, decided to publish it while we were still in art school. We did interviews with bands, such as Suicide, plus writing and pornography and different weird kind of stuff. I worked on two issues. The second issue was corpses being dissected on the cover (laughing) with a picture of my father in the middle. No one would print it in LA because of the pornography, so we had to drive up to San Francisco in his Volkswagen to a pornography printer to get it printed. We hawked them at gigs. We got it at newsstands and some stores.
BB: I got it in NYC.
MG: He carried it on after I left after the first two issues. I did that and then I, eventually, got in a band.
BB: What was your first band?
MG: It was called The Little Cripples. Then it became Strict Ids first than IDS.
BB: What does IDS stand for?
MG: I don't know. (laughing) About that time I, really, started to get into Teenage Jesus and I heard that Theoretical Girls single and Suicide. Just seeing what was going on in New York made me decide to move to New York.
BB: What year did you move here?
BB: How long after you moved to New York was Circus Mort formed?
MG: Immediately, a friend of mine moved with me here from LA with the idea of starting a band here. We started that and that was a hideous embarrassment but once that broke up after about a year, I made a decision that I was really going to focus and control what I was doing. So, I started Swans; I picked up the bass. Rhys Chatham gave me my first bass. I started writing these percussive things, working with tape loops and building it up.
BB: I want to ask you what drove you to composing slow, loud songs dealing with passion and pain, but after hearing about your jail experiences of youth, it makes more sense.
MG: I was full of rage. I didn't realize it then. You remember me. I was not an easy person to be around. On the other hand, it was a really pure flame of energy. I kind of envy that person now. I am not that person anymore. There was a real focus on making something happen no matter what the cost. I used to work twelve hours a day plastering and then rehearse for six hours, subsisting on various white powdery substances and quarts of Bud, basically. I don't know where the energy came from. As far as the content of the lyrics and all that, it had a lot to do with reading.
BB: What writers inspired you?
MG: At the time, I was reading Genet, Celine, De Sade and Wilhem Reich was a big influence. His book The Mass Psychology Of Fascism. A big stylistic influence was advertising television commercials. The impact of that kind of language. Another influence would have been Jerzey Kosinski. Not Painted Bird ,which I read, but his other books like Steps. I just wanted a methodical blunt language without metaphor. That's how I wrote. The music just seemed to slow down and slow down; it seemed to become this pulse instead of this rocking thing.
BB: I remember when Swans played at Maxwell's in Hoboken, like to three people, and while you were sound-checking, you told the soundman that you wanted the bass drum to feel like: THIS!- as you shoved him hard in the chest. (both laughing)
MG: No wonder I've never been asked back there. The influences, musically, were not the typical ones. I didn't want it to sound like any fucking punk band in any way, although, there was a certain energy in like say the Germs that I really liked. It just seemed redundant and silly to do those chords. I was more influenced by SPK or Throbbing Gristle and the Stooges were always a huge influence. I didn't want to sound like anybody else. Once I made the leap to make the music sound like chunks of sound rather than riffs, it kinda opened up.
BB: What were the early Europe tours like?
MG: Our first tour to Europe, we just booked a few shows and went over there. We didn't have tickets home, we didn't have any money, we slept on floors. At the end of the tour we were in London, we played and typically 10 people would show up and 9 of them would leave. They would have no idea who we were, it would just say Swans from NYC, they would show up and go ahhhhhhh and run out. (laughing). So, we did a whole tour like that, making enemies across the land. We ended up in London with no money at all. AT ALL! No way to get home and we had this gig at this place called Heaven opening for the Fall. We played. It was a terrible experience but there was a guy in the audience, Rob Collins, that worked for Some Bizarre records. He saw us and gave us the money to get home and then help us finish this record, that we were working on which, eventually, became Cop. We had put out Filth through Neutral, of course. After Cop we did this EP called Raping A Slave and then we did the series of 12" called Greed, Holy Money, Time Is Money, Bastard. I started incorporating other elements like early sampling, like the kick drum and the snare on Holy Money were a nail gun I got from work. Just one an octave down and one an octave up. It slowly transmuted. Jarboe got involved and I started utilizing her talents as a singer.
BB: That was around the time of the double LP Children Of God that Rob Collins put out. Wasn't that a long process and an expensive record to make?
MG: I guess so! (laughing).
BB: He always said that it put him out of business.
MG: I'm sure it did but it got done, at least. I always get shit done no matter what.
BB: Was that the first record with Jarboe?
MG: No, she had sung a little bit on Greed and Holy Money and she had toured with us playing one of the first commercially available samplers called Insonic and it was just noise. She would hit it along with the percussion; big slabs of sound. She did that for a couple tours and sang a few token songs.
BB: Didn't you meet her through a fan letter she sent you?
MG: Yeah, basically, talked to her on the phone, we got along and she came to New York. Through the whole Greed, Holy Money thing, I started to get fed up with the whole "brutality" aspect of the music and also the expectations of the audience to be pummeled. Heavy metal kids started showing up. It just started to feel a little ridiculous. That wasn't the point. I decided to expand it and picked up an acoustic guitar and started singing. We still did some heavy stuff but started to incorporate the softer stuff. Looking back at it, me playing an acoustic guitar, I was pretty inept but I was trying. I always try to keep myself interested in what I'm doing and not get trapped.
BB: Was The Burning World next after Children Of God?
MG: We did Children Of God and then we did this unfortunate single Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division), which did not come out how I wanted. Mute [Records], who we were with at the time insisted that it be produced by someone. I wanted it to be produced like that Little Drummer Boy song, Phil Spectorish but it ended up being this tight thing with drum machine and it's embarrassing to me. Yet that got us signed to MCA, which was a total disaster. They spent a ton of money on making the record and I had to have an outside producer. They wouldn't let me produce it. I had admired some of Bill Laswell's work but I don't think the combination worked well. It's a decent record but within a week of it being released, MCA was bought by some huge company. I don't remember who it was and they fired the whole staff of this subdivision that we were on called UNI. Our A&R guy quit and the record just trickled out. Then in my misguided enthusiasm, I hired a publicist at my own expense wasting thousands of dollars of the advance we got. Rather than give managers percentages, I paid them cash each month. I just used up all the money from that record on that kind of shit and it still flopped. It was a nightmare. Fortunately, we got dropped.
BB: Was it your idea to have Robert Mapplethorpe's photo on the front cover?
MG: Oh yeah.
BB: Was that easy to do?
MG: Our A&R man was a friend of his. We got free of our contract and I went to Rough Trade and started up Young God Records. I re-released stuff, did a World Of Skin thing and recorded at my own expense, White Light From The Mouth Of Trinity. All that seemed to be going well and the week that White Light came out, Rough Trade went bankrupt. Never saw any money from anything; a complete disaster.
BB: How were the World Of Skin records different from the Swans records?
MG: You mean... sonically?
MG: It was just Jarboe and me working with simple means. A little piano, a little guitars and samplers with strange sounds, and then we got ridiculous and got a string section for a few songs. I'm just a work obsessive and always looking for new ways to do stuff. Also, what I learned after I was able to quit my construction job, was that the only way to survive was to keep putting things out all the time. The worst thing you could do is end up at a job you hate. So, that's what I still do. I just keep working all the time. The motivation was to make good music but also to keep working. Then we subsisted for a while putting out records and licensing. We did a lot of records, Great Annihilator, Feel Good Now, Soundtracks For The Blind. Now the label is a real label with a real distributor [Revolver].
BB: What was the final lineup of Swans?
MG: It always changed, especially, for the last five years.
BB: Ever count all the members?
MG: I think it's thirty or something like that.
BB: Tell me about your book, The Consumer?
MG: It is a compilation of short stories. The last half of the book is up to 1985; ones that I had written back then. I went back and edited them and fleshed them out a bit. The second half, when I left NYC for Atlanta for a short hiatus that lasted a couple of years. I got there and just locked myself in the basement and forced myself to write more stories and wrote the first half of the book.
BB: It's an amazing book, you really feel the horror of what you are trying to get across.
MG: I have no idea what I was trying to get across! I, certainly, didn't set out to shock. It's strange, certainly. I don't have any clue how to get back into the frame of mind of where I was, when I wrote the old stuff up until ÂŒ85. And I don't even think I have the ability to get into the place, where I was when I wrote the newer stuff. I write a bit now but, frankly, I'm having trouble finding a new voice.
BB: What was it like running the band out of Atlanta?
MG: It was difficult. Atlanta is sort of a black hole, as far as getting something to happen. There are just no resources. You come here and everybody's so competitive and energized. At the time I moved there, I was completely drained from seventeen years in New York. Seventeen years of struggle, never making any money and constantly battling. My personality being the way it was as you know I've made a lot of enemies
and a lot of bad memories and I sort of fled. I couldn't deal with it, drinking way too much. I would go to the bar at four in the afternoon and be there until three in the morning. It was called "my office." It was right around the corner called the Horseshoe Bar. I had to get out so I went down there. I broke up the Swans because, to me, it just became a dead end. I think I made a fine final statement and there was just nowhere to go after that. It garnered this reputation that was kind of a straitjacket. It felt best to just leave it behind after fifteen years.
BB: What's the difference between the Body Lovers album, which I have and consists of lush instrumental soundscapes and the Body Haters, which I didn't know existed until I saw it listed on the Young God website?
MG: I have one of those left and you can't have it. (laughing) The Body Lovers was made with 24-track recordings, little tape recordings, loops, found sounds, all that stuff was amassed. A lot of that stuff I've had for fifteen years and pulled out of a box. I recorded new things with the idea of the Body Lovers and dumped it onto a computer and found how it all worked together somehow. The Body Haters... I threw all my samples and sampler away when I left Atlanta, but at the time, I had the sampler on my desk and a keyboard and with a few sounds loaded in, I just hit the keys like this and made this sonic soundscape piece, and then I put that into a computer and freaked out the computer. The engineer was working on it and this loop started to happen, the computer was screaming like the screen was going to explode. He went rushing to the controls and I was like wait! Wait! I had him get a DAT and we recorded that and
had him put that back into the sound. Organic things like that were happening.
BB: How did the Angels Of Light evolve?
MG: It's probably just what I would have done if I continued Swans. Songs that I write with an acoustic guitar and once I have a song, I just think of how to orchestrate it and what instruments are required. For the first record, I didn't have a band, so I just brought in all my friends to play on it and orchestrated it like a film. The second record How I Loved You is more like the band as it was at the time. This new record will probably be a little bit of that but more filmic-composed than the last one.
BB: When you are struggling with a recording, do you consider yourself more a perfectionist or more of a neurotic?
MG: I wouldn't say I'm neurotic. When I'm in the studio, I get intensely involved in the project.
BB: How long did it take to record How I Loved You?
MG: Months. New Mother the first one took longer. This new one will take a long time, too. Once I'm in the studio, I have ideas and things, but accidents happen and I just pursue them. I don't hang on to my original perception. If something happens that surprises me, I go with that instead. I, usually, wring the blood out of the process until that's all that I can do. The studio is like an instrument to me. It is it's own world.
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4/1/2001 | PopMatters | Jason Thompson
Angels of Light | How I Loved You | Review
Still Life with Angels
Subtlety. It's not really a word one would associate with Michael Gira. After all, his former band Swans created loud and angry albums that pushed the limits of not only their fans, but of the band members as well. Gira was used to taking it on the chin in the press for his music, his attitude, and his actions. But that's how he wanted to create his work. Hearing the sounds of Swans, one begins to wonder if Gira managed to exorcise all his demons.
One may wonder that even more when listening to Gira and his new group Angels of Light on their second album, How I Loved You. Michael composed the songs over a couple years, and "as it turns out, they're all love songs, in one form or another", says Gira. However, one really shouldn't be surprised. It's not like this is a Wayne Newton album. You can't really come to "expect" anything obvious from Gira.
Playing with Michael on the album are such notables as Siobhan Duffy on background vocals, Kid Congo Powers on electric guitar, Bliss Blood working over the saw and ukelele, Larry Mullins on a number of instruments, including Farfisa, and Thor Harris on dulcimer to name but a few. Gira has been currently touring in support of the album and has also been busy concocting new songs, playing them to the audiences and deciding how to record them later.
Having been influenced from everything from Nico to old relationships, Gira has constructed an album of bittersweet pleasures. And there is still nothing subtle about his sound. Just because many of the instruments on the songs are acoustic doesn't mean Michael can't push the emotions with them. In fact, he builds consistently dense yet melodic soundscapes time and time again. The opening track "Evangeline" is a perfect example, starting out quiet and plaintive at the beginning, then slowly building up the melody, tension, and volume throughout the middle before breaking down again into almost a sigh for the conclusion. It takes nearly nine minutes, but it's beautiful. It needs the time to bloom.
Other tracks take similar routes. The epic masterpiece of the disc, "New City in the Future", lasts nearly 12 minutes. But again, the songs ebbs and flows, shifting between quiet moments, and almost harsh, raging swells as Gira cuts loose. "Why?!" pleads Michael at the songs conclusion, over and over, as the instruments clamor in the background, sounding as if they may break at any moment. The closing "Two Women" is just as long, but focuses more on the heavenly, the angelic, the beautiful. Not to say that Gira's soul shattering exercises are not beautiful, either. To listen to them is to cleanse yourself as well when Michael strips himself bare, forcing his emotions through the microphones.
Indeed, it's a lush beauty that saturates many of the songs here, from the chiming "Song for Nico" to the wonderful "New York Girls". How I Loved You strikes the perfect balance between the dark and the light. As songs like "My True Body" roar with a fixated rage, there are others like "Untitled Love Song" that keep the manic energy under control. It's moving and fascinating to hear such contrasts come and go throughout the album.
Have things changed for Michael Gira since leaving Swans and forming Angels of Light? It's hard to say. Musically, the old rage is still there. Yet in the new setting, it's even more fascinating. After all, it's not often that we get to hear acoustic instruments pushed to their limits like this. In a sense, it's almost frightening. Yet it always remains captivating, nonetheless. For all intents and purposes, How I Loved You is a successful and unique collection of love songs. Harrowing, but passionate.
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4/1/2001 | WIRE | Issue 206 | Jim Haynes
Angels of Light | How I Loved You | Review
At 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.
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4/23/2001 | CMJ New Music Report | Issue: 711 | Neil Gladstone
Review | Angels of Light | How I Loved You
CMJ New Music Report Cover Pick
If you ever wondered what kind of parents could have spawned the despondent, lust-ridden, roiling wound that is Michael Gira, you finally have a chance to see their pictures on the Angels Of Light's second album, How I Loved You. Alice Shulte Gira's wavy Varga-girl do and exacting lipstick frame model good looks and a toothy grin. Robert Pierre Gira imprinted at least two things on his son's DNA: searching eyes and a forehead probably wrinkled by too much worrying. Since these two shaped their son's angst-ridden conception of love, it's only appropriate that their portraits compliment a collection of love songs that's both beautiful and fret-filled. Michael's bassy croon mulls over tales of prison rape, New York coquettes and an infatuation with Nico in arrangements that swirl together the influence of Velvet Underground's heroin-inspired incantations with Gregorian chants, Nashville ballads and Indian ragas. None of this will be very surprising to anyone who followed Gira's later work with the Swans or his first Angels Of Light album, New Mother. However, while the previous album was recorded in spurts, these tunes were rehearsed for several months before recording. As a result, the baroque bombast of previous efforts is honed into a dour stew more than dramatic enough to make any mother swoon.
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5/30/2001 | Detroit Metro Times | Walter Wasacz
Angels of Light | How I Loved You | Review
Gira was a pop-culture original. Once, seemingly in another lifetime, Michael Gira meted out punishment to himself and his fans like no one else has before or since. In performance, he and his band, Swans, were so loud, the musicÂ‹played at a crawl, so slow it appeared frozen in time and spaceÂ‹bludgeoned the eardrums and made intestines vibrate.
But it was Gira's voice, which thundered and howled over this sonic sludge, that delivered the real pain. In the song "A Hanging," he prayed, "Dear God in Heaven/I'll hang for you." And in "Coward," he commanded a lover to "Put your knife in me/and walk away." (Both songs appear on Swans' divine and submissive 1986 masterpiece, Holy Money.)
Gira was a pop-culture original. A romantic literary outlaw spiritually descended from Celine and Genet, he wrote with the feverish hand of a condemned manÂ‹his songs evoking images of foreign prisons, public castration, slaves being raped.
Gira grounded Swans, which gradually replaced their early monochrome harshness with Technicolor songs of Love and salvation, with 1996's Soundtracks for the Blind finale. It seemed Gira had pushed the thematic limits of fleshly humiliation and agitated mysticism as far as he could. Or did he?
The Angels of Light, a group Gira launched the following year, shows him continuing his unyielding personal journey to the end of the night.
How I Loved You is the new band's second album (New Mother, released in 1999, was the first). It begins quietly with a beautiful power ballad, "Evangeline," and ends with "Two Women," in which Gira's narrator promises an idealized mother figure he will "kneel naked upon the burning coals/If you'll come for me."
Gira's mother, whose portrait is on the cover, is clearly the object of scorn and devotion on How I Loved You. (Gira's father, who is pictured on the back cover, apparently plays little role here).
She appears again in "Song for Nico," where Gira sings, "You are the reason I've stayed on this earth, Mother sing me into my birth."
Gira turns his attention to other women (or, maybe not?) in "New York Girls." The song drones along a flat line created by organ, timpani and layers of acoustic guitars before it all breaks down into the kind of excuisite chaos and terrible beauty that John Cale brought to the Velvet Underground. When Gira, his voice now dreamy and numb, sings "New York Girls/I'll worship what you are/New York Girls/ How cruel and pure you are," Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen (two artists who have also tracked their souls as they inch their way out of the body) come to mind.
That's heavenly company for Michael Gira's Angels, to be sure. How I Loved You is a whisper, a rant and a remembrance: It seeks to answer questions most of us would never dare to ask.
File it under uneasy listening.
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6/1/2001 | Magnet Magazine | John Darnielle
Angels of Light | How I Loved You | Review
Gira has been making some of the best music in the world, taking pain as his point of departure.
"My pain is pointless and endless," sings Michael Gira on "My
True Body," the incredible third song on How I Loved You. It's not so.
Since the early '80s, when he rode a band called Swans to semi-prominence on
hugely amplified waves of sound and fury, Gira has been making some of the
best music in the world, taking pain as his point of departure. Angels Of Light,
Gira's more song-oriented post-Swans outlet, is a collaborative whose only
non-negotiable member is Gira himself. A number of music's most underappreciated
luminaries are contributors hereÂ‹Kid Congo Powers, Bliss Blood (Pain
Teens), Lawrence Mullins (Swans)Â‹and the result is a dark, contemplative
creature whose 10 songs take up more than an hour of time well-spent. Sounding
more like a cooperative effort than a personality-driven band, Angels Of Light
contruct Western ragas that in other hands would serve as backdrops for sentimental
sketches of mountains or rivers. Here, they're lush, slightly countrified,
bass-heavy springboards for quietly violent, overtly poetic meditations on
self and other. It's still heavy-handed stuff; you won't be having "Public
Embarrassment Blues" played at your wedding anytime soon. But it's also
some of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking songwriting around, envisioning
new possibilities for acoustic music, which is often unfairly maligned as "gentle" and "mellow."
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6/1/2001 | Mojo (UK) | Andrew Cardin
entered by: Eric Lyman
Angels of Light | How I Loved You | Review
Big acoustic guitars and love songs; not necessarily the first thing you'd expect from Michael Gira... a man who once proclaimed Public Castration Is A Good Idea.
In the first half of the 80s Swans were arguably the last word in noisenik terrorism: even alongside Big Black and the Butthole Surfers their ear-splitting volume, agonizingly slow tempos and in-your-face misanthropy was an exercise in extremity. Yet even Swans mellowed with age, and long before splitting up had embraced acoustic instruments and conventional songwriting. Indeed, it's the latter-day Swans that this most closely resembles, due to Michael Gira's distinctive timbre and penchant for all-consuming wall-of-sound production, which lends his songs a similarly gargantuan resonance. How I Loved You explores the themes of love and loss with a combination of confessional introspection and epic orchestration. Although Gira often sounds like he's shouldering the weight of the world and its woes, it seems the light of love has erased the burden and made his music an uplifting, even redemptive experience.
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6/6/2001 | New York Press | Jordan N. Mamone
M. Gira | Interview
INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL GIRA
When a performer perseveres for decades, he can become known as an "elder statesman," one of pop criticism's ugliest cliches. That tag does not apply to Michael Gira, who remains as relevant and as unsettling today as he was in the early 80s when he formed the unfathomably loud, slow and symphonic experimental-rock group Swans. The band, whose recordings range from physically imposing hell-crunch to pastoral purity and back again, lasted for 15 influential years.
By the late 90s, Gira had initiated a trio of new projects: the sound-art unit the Body Lovers; its nightmare twin the Body Haters; and the silver-toned, largely acoustic ensemble the Angels of Light, which just released its second album, How I Loved You (Young God), an assortment of weary, dualistic ballads filled with sweet bliss and intense repulsion, both musical and emotional.
You've been back in New York for several years. Why have you returned?
"I actually left Atlanta not knowing where I was going to end up living. I was fed up with that place and knew I had to leave, but the prospect of coming back to live in NYC was pretty daunting, with menacing ghosts everywhere. Anyway, I left Atlanta with everything I owned in my van, and came here to finish the first Angels of Light record, [1999's] New Mother. I was sleeping on the couch of the studio where I was working, just immersed in the work, and as the record was being finished I realized I didn't have a place to live, which didn't really bother me because I was used to just wandering around the U.S. in my van by myself anyway. I just stayed here through inertia, I guess. I don't really belong anywhere else, being a type-AAAA personality."
A song on the new record, "New York Girls," nicely defines a familiar breed of city dweller.
"Well, there's just an ongoing, always-replenishing crop of tough, cynical and beautiful punk-rock girls that I've noticed at shows since I first came to NYC in 1979. I worship them. I was sitting on the side of the stage at CBGB a couple of years ago, looking out at the audience as a friend's band played, and nothing looked any different than it did back then in 1979. There I was, 20 years older, but still telegraphing lust at several sweating girls in leather jackets or the equivalent outfit. Mixed in with these fresh faces were a few women I'd know for over a decade. [It was] just a strange feeling, like coming home after a long trip, and I felt it necessary to honor them in ways other than the usual nefarious desires."
I can empathize.
"I think Richard Kern's book of photos, New York Girls, captures the same sensation quite well, too. I've spent many hours 'studying' it."
Is "New City in the Future" about those menacing NYC ghosts you mentioned?
"It's really about the loss of someone dear to me. Trying to remember, or capture, the sense of wonder their presence inspired in me, as if the objects she touched, the spaces her body passed through, were altered or made magical somehow by virtue of her having come into contact with them."
Live, you introduce "My True Body" as being about your time in an Israeli jail.
"'My True Body' is an elliptical love song in that it's about an experience I had as a kidÂ‹I was a runaway. I went to Europe with my father and ran away, and I spent a lot of time just hitchhiking around, and somehow ended up in Israel. I believe that I was 14, going on 15. I was with a couple of older hippie guys who were ushering me through this life-on-the-road process.
"They had a contact in Israel, so we ended up getting into Israel, and I spent a year there, a few months on a kibbutz, then just living off the streets, selling my blood, panhandling, selling drugs. I got arrested for selling drugs, so I spent a total of three and a half months in jail there. I ended up in an adult prison by some obscure miscarriage of justice, but fortunately I was pretty much protected by the American-vagabond contingent that was in there. We stayed in an old army barracks and we were mixed in with Arabs, of which there were an abundance in jail. So the Arabs would be at one end of the barracks and the European-vagabond-hippie-derelicts were at the other.
"Every night, I would hear and see this young Arab boy being raped repeatedly by 20 or so different guys, in the mouth, particularly. It would be dark, and there was a huddled mass working him over, and he would be crying and protesting. Then he would shuffle across the concrete floor in his slippers, go to the communal sink, throw up, brush his teeth and shuffle back. The other prisoners would snicker a bit, and this process would repeat itself the next night. So that song is sung through my idealized, romanticized version of this young saint. It's kind of a love song in the sense that it's about sex and passion through his eyes. So in that sense it's a typical love song. I guess this experience, seeing this kind of thing at such a young age, shaped my perception of human nature, and love, in a wayÂ‹Christ, I didn't even have pubic hair yet."
Why is the album comprised of love songs?
"In my zeal to escape myself, I fall in love."
Who are the other objects of affection?
"With a few exceptions, they really all meld into the same woman: my mother. I guess that's rather unseemly for a 47-year-old man, but there it is, the naked truth."
What is the significance of putting your parents' photos on the album cover?
"Since they inevitably shaped my conception of love, it seemed appropriate. They're quite handsome, don't you think? They were the ideal, optimistic American couple, and of course they came to a ruinous end."
How I Loved You sounds like less of a solo project than its predecessor.
"Well, this is a band now. I toured with these musicians pretty extensively, and the songs, though written on acoustic guitar, were developed through hashing them out live. Also, it was recorded live, with a few overdubs."
How have you changed as a guitarist since your days playing bass on those early-80s Swans records?
"Even using the word 'guitarist' to describe me makes me embarrassed. I know absolutely nothing, formally, about the guitar, and I've always tried to keep it that way. I would never be able to play someone else's songsÂ‹except maybe [the Stooges'] 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'Â‹hah!Â‹and I can't even get that right. I just fumble about until I find something I like, maybe change the tuning a bit to accommodate my lack of dexterity or skill, then play it over and over until I feel confident in the feel and the chords, etc. This is what I've always doneÂ‹I guess I've always just had the misguided arrogance to think I could do anything if I set my mind to it, so I'm not intimidated by my lack of knowledge, and try to use it as an asset instead. This attitude comes from the early punk days, I guess. It was interesting talking to [Nick Cave/Cramps/Congo Norvell guitarist] Kid Congo Powers about this a few timesÂ‹he's the same way, just doesn't want to know, ever. Of course, this doesn't mean you don't become better able to express yourselfÂ‹it just remains within the context of your own special vocabulary."
Why has playing in an incredibly loud, aggressive manner lost most of its appeal?
"Because it became a shtick, a trap, a cliche for me, and besides, as I've grown older, it just would feel unseemly or undignified to 'rock out.' Not that I'm opposed to generating an all-consuming, overwhelming sound at timesÂ‹I just want to get at that sensation through different means."
What made you decide to be more active with your label, Young God Records? You're signing and producing other bands, like a real magnate.
"Magnate? Ha! I'm more like an expert juggler, tossing one disaster after another from hand to hand. The only time Young God was a real label in the past was when Rough Trade distributed us [circa 1990]. After their bankruptcy I just shuffled from place to place. Now that I've got a distributor again [Revolver], I can think of it like a real label. But I'm a terrible, terrible businessmanÂ‹I just put out what interests me, then throw it out into the indifferent vortex and see what happens. What a marketing strategy!
"As far as the other bands on the label, I just release them because I think they deserve to be heard, and because I feel passionate about the music. Usually I end up working with people through haphazard circumstance. I don't really actively seek out a 'hot new band'Â‹in fact, I wouldn't want to put something like that out."
You're a pretty snappy dresser these days...
"My father always said, 'When you're poor, dress rich.'"
Volume 14, Issue 23
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6/20/2001 | allmusic.com | Thom Jurek
Angels of Light | How I Loved You | Review
AMG Expert Review
Michael Gira, songwriter, vocalist, and producer, has been a constant on the
independent music scene for over 20 years. His music has evolved restlessly
and relentlessly over the course of many projects from Swans to Skin to the
Body Lovers/Body Haters to spoken word recordings and now to the Angels of
Light. Through it all, his vision has been one of extremes, from violence to
tenderness, often in the same breath. He has taken the broken, the sick, and
the unmentionable and, through a singular vision of the universe as a collection
of inseparable entities, often transformed these horrific shadows into works
of great beauty and forceÂ‹even if that beauty is covered under an excess
and aggression so pure they are sometimes frightening. Angels of Light's How
I Loved You moves far from that terrain and into a zone of languid reverie,
bittersweet longing, and crystalline excess. The mood resembles previous Angels
of Light recordings only in that the tone of the songs is largely acoustic
with a palette of oblique electronic washes and blurred sonic architectures
applied for cavernous, orchestral atmosphere. Its elegance is seductive, and
that seduction is necessary because the resplendent beauty Gira creates is
adorned with confusion, and a melancholy celebration of all that is ambivalent
in the human heart while in the grips of the purest desire: the one that wishes
to possess the object of one's affection at any cost. The band is comprised
of Gira on vocals, guitars, and effects; Christoph Hahn on lap and electric
guitars; Lawrence Mullins on percussion; Dana Shecter on bass and piano; Birgit-Cassis
Staudt on accordion, piano, and Casio; and Thor Harris on dulcimer and piano.
They are joined by Bliss Blood on vocals and Kid Congo Powers on electric guitar.
Gira's collaborators are so in the truest sense of the word, helping to shape
a sound with no center other than the vision of the love song itself. The disc
opens with "Evangeline," a song that echoes the traditional folk
song in title only. This paeanÂ‹painted with a sparse piano, strummed
acoustic guitar, and unidentifiable soundsÂ‹is a requiem. As the protagonist
offers his vision of the woman's beauty so still and peaceful in its "sleeping" state,
aware of her unselfishness and her beauty in still life under city skies, her
tenderness and innocence become the reflection of all that is present in the
still-life shell that represents itself nakedly in front of the singer. He
holds this picture in the grain of his voice, tracing the lips of memory in
its fullness, no longer present, but gone beyond "steel door dreams." In "Untitled
Love Song," a stringed instrument reminiscent of a mandolin or even a
ukulele enters into an echo-filled hallway, where organ, piano, and guitar
slip themselves into a mix so gauzy and slow it's almost invisible. When Gira's
protagonist appears, he sings, "Free from your past, free from your future
too/There's nothing left to rise above but you/Show me ocean red, kiss the
tears that stain my neck/Drug me with visions untrue/But I own a photograph,
you lay there naked upon your back/Safe in a stone house by the sea...." It's
a country song and the emotionÂ‹powerful, elegiac, disturbingÂ‹is
tender and almost transparent in its wishes. The backing vocals waft and wend
their way through Gira's vocal, and every wordÂ‹no matter how far off
the beaten path it seemsÂ‹rings true. Each song moves into progressively
more stirring, beautiful, and terrible territory, where no boundaries exist,
the line between love and violence never was, and the only thing that matters
is exposing how deep the wound goes. Love reveals itself in all its forms,
with shadow the trace element for achieving any real understanding of love's
complexities. On "Song for Nico," Gira reveals that, on its face,
eros is shallow, but beneath its mask is a labyrinthine corridor of fathomless
depth and obsession. As music and mystery become one in the world of ambiguity
and emotion of the Angels of Light, Gira makes them visible to the naked heart
without artifice or pretension. In "Two Women," amid a slow, droning
electric guitar, drowsy with its own warmth and its twin acoustic, Gira sings, "I,
I wrote a poem on your porcelain white back/And you, you cut the cord in me/And
you, you wore the mask/Painted red, with golden cross/And in your hands a glitter
blue/You hold the knife that cuts the sun/The polished knife, it cuts me too/And
I'm nailed to your shadow and I thank you for my birth...." How I Loved
You reveals, once more, that for Michael Gira and his Angels of Light, there
are no contradictions, no gods, and no monsters in the caverns of love's secret
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7/19/2001 | PITCH WEEKLY, KANSAS CITY | WILSON
Review | ANGELS OF LIGHT | HOW I LOVED
...the album is so wrenching on it's own terms that comparisons are soon forgotten...
Reading through such titles as "Song for Nico" and "My Suicide" on the Cd cover, you could peg Angels of Light as a Velvets-obsessed New York project before breaking the shrink wrap. But though the ten songs on How I Loved You confirm the influence of early Lou Reed on songwriter (and Young God Founder) Michael Gira, the album is so wrenching on it's own terms that comparisons are soon forgotten.
Gira has no pretensions toward punk. The primitivism in some of the album's songs isn't a rejection of musicianship for its own sake. Long stretches of How I Loved You are with deceptive scrupulousness; the presence of underground guitar hero Kid Congo Powers on two tracks is tip-off enough of that. Vibes, sleigh bells, melodica and lap steel keep elen minute epics such as "Two Women" from being endurance tests. The considered arrangements - which, fortunately, don't obscure the strong voice-guitar roots of the songs - are well matched to Gira's bleak words, spreading a canvas before him rather than becoming a blanket of pointless instrumental repetition.
Gira's lyrics, some of them nakedly pleading, aren't first-draft Poetry 101
rejects. More than just a set of charcoal sketches outlining an emotional horror
movie, more than a leap into the vacuum left by the Velvet Underground, Gira's
disc creates its own uniquely nocturnal vortex.
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8/16/2001 | LA Weekly | Jay Babcock
Review | Angels of Light | How I Loved You
The 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 album'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.
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M. Gira live | Review
Beyond the Pale Festival SF Great American Music Hall
...By the time Michael Gira, backed by a stripped down version of his Angels of Light, came on, the audience had become testy. Unexpectedly dignified in his sharp linen suit, Gira looked like a gaunt version of actor Russell Crowe. Fleshed out by multi-instrumentalists Dana Schechter and Larry Mullins, Gira's bellowing and sometimes grunting baritone voice worked like a disturbance beneath clean strummed monochords, pulling at the notes like a magnet. A set of mostly recent material soared with a grandiosity that belied its earthen context of love and bitterness. There was a hint of humour, though; as the audience hooted for the 1991 Swans song "Failure" Gira shot back,"You clap for a song about my father dying? You fucking misanthropes." But he threw the crowd off its feet for a second time as he smiled and retracted the statement... "-10/1/2001 | The Wire | Jim Haynes & Philip Sherburne
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10/14/2001 | Rockpile Magazine | LD Beghtol
Interview with M. Gira | Angles of Light
Michael Gira enlightens the world about ukeleles, the dangers of Demon Rum (or bourbon actually), the tragic history of Swans, life and death in New York and his latest Angels of Light Record.
Long ago and far away, in a mythical world of art and depravity known as The Lower East Side (circa 1980), Michael Gira founded a band called Swans. Over the next decade and a half, Swans made darkly beautiful, often very disturbing music, eventually garnering a cult following despite being ignored by the mainstream press. Members came and went, the sound evolved. The legendary live shows became an orgy of confrontational, operatic despair, with Gira alternately declaiming and crooning his bitter invectives over a pitch-black morass of orchestrated chaos getting progressively slower and louder and more intense, then at times almost mystically lyrical. Charismatic chanteuse Jarboe collaborated with Gira on the best Swans releases and several excellent related projects. In the late '90s Gira put Swans to bed, emerging as an author and spoken-word artist, in addition to recording and performing with his top-notch new band, Angels of Light. Their current release, How I Loved You, on Gira's Young God label, is a glorious affair that backs the artist's morbidly sexual narratives with bucolic soundscapes embroidered with melodica, hammer dulcimer, piano, lapsteel and saw. It's like falling asleep listening to Nick Cave's Murder Ballads, then waking up in the arms of the most beautiful nightmare you've ever had.
People often assume an artist's work is autobiographical. Does that trouble you?
I'm always plagued with that, but I'm not really bothered by it anymore. Most of the songs I've written in the last 20 years grew out of some personal experience or preoccupation, but generally I abstract them. Why should anyone care about my own personal problems? Â‘My Suicide,' for example, isn't from my point of view necessarily, but if I didn't have some kind of familiarity with that inclination, it would've probably come off as specious. Maybe it does, anyway. I don't know!
How I Loved You has some really beautiful songs. Is this something you tried for, or did it just come out that way?
I just sit down with the guitar and start playing without any preconceptions or knowing where it will lead and let the song take shape by itself. I'm not a good enough musician to start out with an idea or a style I want to achieve.
Any instruments you're interested in learning?
I struggle enough as it is within my limited vocabulary of guitar and voice. I wanted to keep How I Loved You in the realm of instruments played in real time by real people, no programming, etc. For the next record I'm hoping I can have it be just acoustic guitar and voice, with a few bits of orchestration here and there. But I always get carried away.
What's your take on collaboration?
I used to be violently anti-collaborative, but I've opened up to it a lot more lately. The rampant egoism of my early days was long ago kicked out of me. The Angels records have grown through allowing other people to breath inside my songs, and I like the result. It's just a matter of choosing people whose sensibilities are correct in the first place, trusting them as people and musicians.
Who would you like to work with?
Oh, let me see nowÃBrian Eno, Bob Dylan, Low, John Cale, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Del McCoury, Johnny Cash, Whitehouse, Pansonic, PJ Harvey, Doc Watson.
What made you think of the ukulele for How I Loved You?
I work with people because I like what they do, and/or like them personally. Bliss Blood (vocalist/ukulelist for The Moonlighters) qualifies on both counts. The ukulele seemed appropriate for the songs in questionÃit has a lightness and playfulness, which counterbalances my usual moping and negativism.
You've just fled Manhattan againÃthis time for Brooklyn. How's life for you out there? Very, very different from the Lower East Side you loved/hated in the 80s?
I live in a normal, working-class section of Brooklyn now, with a garden out back and a little plot in front for a tree and flowers. That's about as opposite as it gets to the windowless Lower East Side bunker I lived in for 15 years.
How is New York different now from your early days there?
Now the Lower East Side has nothing to do with the old days. When I first moved there in 1980 or '81, there was gunfire every night, used syringes and dead rats outside my door, broken glass everywhere. And about nine out of every 10 buildings were abandoned but housing drug dealers. The line for dope stretched for blocks. The police would cruise nonchalantly by, ignoring it. It was extremely dangerous but the rent was cheapÃI paid $100 a month. There was a point when the neighborhood reached a desirable equilibriumÃstill affordable, but a little safer. But now it's just ridiculous. Affluent, really.
Where would you live if nothingÃmoney, politics, geography, whateverÃwere an issue?
My favorite part of the world is the Four Corners area in the Southwest. I've spent a good deal of time there, working in the desert in southern Utah and in southern Colorado, near the New Mexico border. It's where my body feels most acclimated. Ideally, when I'm rich I'll have a house there and a place in New York, too.
Your parents are so hopeful and happy on the cover of How I Loved You. When you think of them, is that what you see? Or do you see what they became after their American Dream crashed and burned?
I sometimes romanticize their golden, early years, because they did embody the post-war optimismÃand materialismÃof their generation. But the loss of those ideals, and their undoing, was probably inevitable. And maybe a good thing in the end.
How does one reconcile conflicts like that?
I don't really have any desire or hope to reconcile conflicts or problems. I just do my work and try not to worry too much about what a fucked-up, piece-of-shit human being I am! Anyway, you can't blame other people for your problems.
There's always been this tragic mythos about Swans. How does that make you feel?
When I think about it at all, it's usually with regret. Fifteen years of pointless struggle except for the work itself, much of which was worthwhile. And I appreciate the fact that younger people are still discovering it, which is probably the main reason I still have a career. But if the only people interested in Angels of Light were old Swans fans I'd be in deep shit, indeed.
What's the worst review your work has ever got?
They're all bad, because if you pay attention to them they can make you second-guess yourself.
Worst press in general?
Probably the worst experience we ever had with Swans was in '85 or '86 with an interview for Spin magazine. The writer came over to our house, was very polite, proper and solicitous. I had the walls covered with my drawings, which were violent and sexual, and various risquÃ© photos on the walls. Things like that. So I presume she got a certain impression she felt gave her license. Anyway, she conducted the interview, seemed enthused about us and the work, then when it was published she'd written new questions from the point of view of a dominatrix to her slave. Things like, ÂŒTell me, Michael Gira, you sniveling worm, before I spank your bottom, about your new album.' Then she inserted an answer drawn from a more polite question. The entire interview was constructed this wayÃfalse questions and answers taken completely out of context.
That's so evil.
Extremely embarrassing, even humiliating. It made us into a really one-dimensional, ridiculous cartoon. It was absolutely devastating. To this day, I can't imagine how anyone could be so shallow and maliciousÃto come into your home, to be treated courteously and then to do such a thing.
Tell me about your new solo album.
It's just me with an acoustic guitar, croaking my songs. And its only available through the Young God website [http://www.younggodrecords.com]. People seem to like it, though, and I recently had a great time doing a few solo shows in Ireland, so I want to do more of it. It's very frightening, but its also the ultimate way to perform. If you can carry that off, you can do anything.
What's your favorite drink?
Any beer from the tap in Bavaria or the Czech Republic. Otherwise, it would be Bookers Bourbon, straight up. However, the latter draws out the violent, sex-crazed demon within, so I avoid it in the interest of survival and other people's safety.
Does television still effect you so strongly as it once did?
I stay away from TV these days. Like so much else in the modern media environment, it's a corporate conduit leading directly into your brain, designed for psychic behavioral control. But it's pointless to complain about it. People's identities and perceptions, their anxieties and desiresÃincluding my ownÃhave been so successfully shaped by it, that it's like complaining about the weather.
If you were invited to a "Come As You Went" costume ball, where the guests dress as their favorite literary or historical suicide, who would you go as?
I guess Jesus qualifies as a suicide, since he could have chosen to avoid his death, so I'd like to be him.