Angles of Light | Reviewdelicacies of defeat and imprints from long-gone brushes with the divine January 2006
Perceptions of Michael Gira, aided by his own, self-deprecating definitions, have always been contradictory. He's part medium, part craftsman, subjugating himself to the implacable metaphysics of a universe in which all human endeavour is punishably futile, and yet endeavouring nonetheless to describe every aspect of this scenario with unflinching, often masochistic precision. These days, of course, the punishment isn't so severe, while the craft has settled into more intimate, more hospitable forms. With every Angels Of Light release. Gira comes closer to finding some equilibrium, a more serene, lived-in yet commandingly detached wisdom infuses the songs and, in the case of the latest album, "Sings 'Other People' ", you're left wondering whether, for all the battle scars still etched into his voice, he
still has cause to tune into the immolating, elemental forces of old.
The initial signs aren't entirely encouraging. Having ditched his former backing band, Angels Of Light now consist of Gira and a group of harmonizing alt-country rockers called Akron/Family, who also get their own support slot. Like Mercury Rev and Bongwater, theirs is a roving, pastoral aesthetic that can either offer a displaced sense of belonging or wander off into gratuitous whimsy, and if at first their eccentricities far outweigh any force of intent, A/F gradually acclimatize you to their roving, carousel-like vision, their tapestries of abstracted musings eventually flooding the mind.
With his trouser-braces, crumpled shirt and demob haircut, Gira has come to resemble a William Burroughs-style, well-traveled grand old man of letters, and even at his most pared down, as with the opening "To Live Through Someone", he sounds like he's reporting back having borne witness the sketchbooks of some grand design ("Some people/Other people/They will always look down from the sky"). Throughout tonight, Angels of Light carry that same sense of wearied enlightenment, delicacies of defeat and imprints from long-gone brushes with the divine. Gira's lived-in sense worldview may have no need for ambition, but tonight isn't all personal retrospection. "Other People's" centerpiece, "Michael's white hands", is a searing, invocatory war cry, convulsions wracking Gira's seated frame as though the dormant fires from his Swans days have been stoked once more, while his cover of Bob Dylan's "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" turns up the heat even
higher, turning it into rapt, multi-layered incantation. If anyone assumes that Gira's muse is becoming ever more withdrawn, tonight proves that in coming to terms with his humanity, his unflinching self-awareness is still incubating the most apocalyptic revelations.