For Brooklyn group Calla, who have been taken under the wing of Michael Gira’s Young God label. Minimalism is the watchword. Not a note is wasted during their end-of-year support slot at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. Every simple melody or chain rattle sample goes toward creating the melancholy mood that engulfs the group’s songs. The three piece develop atmosphere with just a few ingredients, and echoey guitar, clangy metal on metal samples and circling bass and drums. Sometimes, Aurelio Valle’s whispered vocals, Ennio Morricone-style guitar twangs, and drummer Wayne B. Magruder’s nerve jangling samples bring to mind Portishead working their way through Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack.

Live, a track like “Fear of Fireflies”. From the recent Scavengers album, could pass for a pop song, albeit one heard down a dark alley, propelled by a cyclical bass line, simple guitar strums and slinky percussion. However Calla also deal in stratospheric dynamics. The set opener, “The Swarm”, builds from simple strumming into a chalkboard-scrape crescendo, leavened with layers of reverberating feedback. Frontman Valle is the quiet eye in the center of the storm. His resolutely low-key delivery gives the impression that you are eavesdropping on a private conversation.

Calla’s sound often splits the difference between sample-heavy Ambient and guitar driven alternative rock. The group frequently base songs around metallic samples that might have been recorded in a scrapyard, and these found sounds are overlaid with plangent guitar plucking. Calla’s roots show tonight with a cover of Can’s “Mother Sky” (a tribute to the recently deceased Michael Karoli?), a looping mantra infested with fuzz guitar and heartstopping tape loop creaks – and a new song with a bassline that winks at The Pixies. “Awake And Under”, from their self-titled debut album on Sub Rosa, is the most striking moment in the set. The recorded version is a sinister lullaby. Live, the track is shot through with deep church organ bass and treble-scratch guitar, a thick sound that hits through the gut and hangs in the air even after they stop playing.

Where Calla are reserved, former Swans frontman Michael Gira has become quite the raconteur. At one point during the show, he claims to have slept with every member of his current outfit Angels of Light during the course of the tour. Looking like an escapee from a Flannery O’Connor novel, what with his severe buzz cut and film noir suit, Gira leads his Angels through a set that sounds like the final flowering of 60’s chamber death pop. Using instruments such as bass, vibes and acoustic guitar, the group lay down a lush bed of sound to accompany Gira’s deep-throated musings.

Gira, the only permanent member of Angels of Light, concentrates on songs from the How I Loved You album and a selection of recent unrecorded tunes. Often the tracks brings to mind Lou Reed’s Berlin, Lee Hazlewood, Leonard Cohen or newer acts like Lambchop or Tindersticks. Nevertheless, Gira’s music has not entirely lost its abrasive edges. The group kick up a miasma of sound in a new song called “All Souls’ Rising” and keeps up the drone factor in “Nations”, another standout track that has yet to be recorded. Generally, however, the Angels go for a purer acoustic sound live – one that relies less on feedback and echo and more on strum and drum dynamics and lighter-than-air vibraphone for its sonic charge.

Lyrically, Gira’s songs intermingle his own confessions with the stories of losers, boozers and users he encounters in the cities he travels through, whether that be “Rose of Los Angeles” or “New York Girls”. These days, however, there is a more discernible element of black humor and self-parody in his work. “I hate you for your love and I hate you for your sex,” he sings to the audience in “My Suicide”. Gira’s vocals are mixed loud, and like the man himself, his dark chocolate croon comes off as both lubricious and lugubrious on stage. In a club setting, his voice takes on new dimensions, one minute hectoring the crowd like an old time preacher, and whispering sweet and sour nothings in its ear the next. This balancing act between Gira’s past as austere noisemaker and the lighter, more textured stylings of The Angels of Light is perfectly illustrated at the end of the show as, bathed in blue light, Gira formally – almost primly – snips all the strings off his acoustic guitar.

M Gira & D Matz What We Did The Wire, Issue 215, January 2002 By Jim Haynes

During one of the final Swans tours across the US, leader Michael Gira employed the Texan post-rock ensemble Windsor For The Derby as support. Up until this collaboration between Gira and the latter's Dan Matz, Windsor had appeared to be an unusual choice, as Swans' might and emotional catharsis clearly overwhelmed Windsor's pristine repetitions and understated, Slintish punctuations. Yet in the synthesis of What We Did it becomes clear that Swans and Windsor merely took different approaches towards the same impetus to control sound in order to communicate through it. Where Gira's late period Swans built a furious trance-rock from baroque slabs of hypnotic guitar noise to augment his poetic mythologies of sex, hate, love and death, Windsor rendered an awe of the sublime through the surgical removal of bombast and a technically precise applications of mathematical compositions. Thus Gira could be seen as the Shaman and Matz the Anaesthetist.

To a certain extent, Gira's collaboration with Matz picks up where Swans left off with their tense, droning grooves. Yet, Gira is speaking truthfully when he said What We Did was founded on mutual respect. As testament to such claims the album opens with "Pacing The Locks" a duet that sets Matz's whispered vocals against Gira's dignified baritone while the two share guitar duties, gently strolling through their spartan chords. Almost comically upbeat, " Lines"' could have been lifted from the Gram Parsons songbook. Backed by a locomotive-themed arrangement with its mandatory claw-fisted banjo picking and steam-whistle harmonica, Gira poises himself at the train station waiting for the love of his life coming down the tracks - only to gleefully spoil the image with the reality of how contemporary romance is now transcribed "down through the optic line, then sifted through the screen."

While both Matz and Gira offer up a few tracks like "Lines" the most enthralling moments here are when the two lock into taut grooves and extended arpeggiations that incrementally multiply in density, bringing the song to a crescendo. "Is/Was" begins with a repetition of a plaintive Delta blues chord, adds a sustained organ drone, followed by the tinkling of a vibraphone; Matz's voice joins Gira's, and so on, until the song becomes a very subtly constructed mass of nervous rhythms. "17 Hours" for guitars, drum machine and organs, increases the tension considerably, but with far more rigidity and brittleness in the arrangement.

Beyond the Pale Festival SF Great American Music Hall (excerpt) The Wire, Issue 212, October 2001 By Jim Haynes & Philip Sherburne

....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... .........