Angels of Light | Preview
Jordon Zivitz | Montreal Gazette
The Angels of Light perform at La Sala RossaMichael Gira says the new Angels of Light album is one of the crown jewels of his 20-year recording career. But he can't stand to listen to it. "It just sounds like static sound to me now," Gira said in an e-mail interview, pausing from intensive rehearsals for a tour in support of Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home." I actually hate the recording process for that reason. It kills everything. Still, I'm addicted to it." Perhaps it's the feeling of studio labour destroying his music that leads Gira to constantly reinvent it. The New York-based singer launched the Angels of Light in 1999, burying his previous band Swans after 15 years of challenging, cathartic sound sculpture that was revered and reviled in equal measure. Gira has always been at the core of both outfits, joined by a changing parade of like-minded fringe-dwellers who feel no obligation to create a living, breathing version of the album on stage. Hence the strange touring lineup, which includes three guitarists and no drummer. "I just don't see any point in trying to replicate something that's already passed. Also, it would be preposterously expensive to try to perform the songs as arranged on the record - it would take at least 10 musicians." The Angels of Light is primarily an acoustic venture, but hardly a bare-bones one. Alternatingly stark and torrential, the new disc's instrumentation encapsulates the expected (guitar and violin) and the "what the ... !?" (Spectral organ weaves through the funereal, apocalyptic narrative What Will Come, and Wedding is made all the more otherworldly by the most surreal children's chorus you'll ever hear). Not surprisingly, Gira's recording process is a chaotic one, "like trying to wrangle an angry swarm of hornets into a nest." Ambition aside, Gira's budget would be more suited to only acoustic guitar and his solemn bass vocals. Everything ... was financed through proceeds from an Internet-only live Angels CD; sales were swift, indicating that even if Gira overdraws his bank account just to fund the rural-preacher suits he's taken to wearing on stage, his audience is devoted enough to ensure support for his projects (all of which are available through his self-administered company, Young God Records). "I'm very resourceful and stubborn, and always find a way to make something happen. I am fortunate to have a career after over 20 years of making music, and it's good to see the audience continually replenished by young people - all kinds of different people. That gives me a measure of optimism. If the audience was just a bunch of old sourpusses like me, I'd definitely call it quits!" Many who have encountered Gira's work have seen him more as a tortured demon than a sourpuss. While his imagery is far less violent now than it was when he wrote Raping a Slave in the early days of Swans, there's still an undercurrent of doom to many of his lyrics, as if he's either viewing or predicting a cataclysmic horror. But those who have followed Gira's career know how many shades of black he employs, and it would be a mistake to paint anyone who praises both the Carter Family and ritual Tibetan music as a simple misanthrope. "If I worry too much what people think of me or my work, I'd run the danger of trying to second-guess myself, which would mean paralysis. So I try not to pay attention. My aim is certainly not misanthropic, though, I'll say that. Quite the opposite, in fact: I'd be highly gratified if someone experienced joy listening to the music. I just don't want to go about it by writing saccharine words or music." Gira met with a certain measure of notoriety in the early days of Swans, when the group's traumatizing industrial holocaust destroyed PAs and sensitive souls. One anecdote with the air of urban legend involves Gira locking the audience inside a London venue. ("I think we did do that, yes. Maybe that was because in those days everyone left after the first chord was sounded, and I wanted to get some revenge.") Like the Angels, later Swans albums were far subtler, often specializing in the dark ambience and thrilling crescendos now mined by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. (The Montreal ensemble's new CD can be seen amid the clutter on the back cover of Everything ...; Gira says there was even talk of a collaboration at one point.) But despite a 100-decibel drop, Gira's uncompromising songcraft ensures that his clothes will always be tailored for a cult following. "I suppose there was a time when I was idiotic enough to feel I had a chance at a more mainstream audience, but I was soundly trounced for that bit of hubris, and I'm glad. ... The people who like (my music) REALLY like it, for the right reasons."
The Angels of Light perform tomorrow at 9 p.m. at La Sala Rossa, 4848 St. Laurent Blvd., with Devendra Banhart. Tickets cost $12, $15 at the door. Call (514) 284-3804.