Angels of Light | Lush Light | Rod Smith

With the Angels of Light, Michael Gira continues to fashion a dense majesty from layers of inspiration.

Michael Gira knows exactly what he likes—at least when it comes to making records—and he’s not the least bit shy about discussing his preferences. “My favorite thing,” the recording artist, producer, and head of Young God Records explains via e-mail, “is to be in the studio, clock and money ticking away, in complete disarray, with no idea of what I want to do next, only to find something that works out of sheer panic.”

The making of Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, the third and latest release by Gira’s main project, The Angels of Light, must have been a very panic-stricken affair indeed. It’s an almost impossibly rich record much of the time, brimming with mandolin, dulcimer, violin, keyboards, horns, and various other instruments (in addition to the usual guitars, bass, drums, and vocals—lots of them), all meticulously orchestrated for maximum dramatic effect. As Gira writes: “I ended up saturating every available molecule of the recording tape with sound.”

Gira’s propensity for density is anything but newfound, though. As the mind behind Swans, he experimented with it for fifteen years, ultimately developing a lush, highly nuanced approach to composition centered around massive layered chords which generated their own subsidiary melodies—“ghost tones,” as they’re called in classical music. When he laid Swans to rest in 1997, the big chords went, too. But the urge to, uh, pile it on, as it were, remained.

“The initial agenda for Angels,” he relates, “was to write simple songs, minimally orchestrated, but when I hear an initial bit of music I’ve recorded on tape, the first thing I think about is how it could be MORE.” Nowadays, Gira pursues that “more” just as doggedly as ever—but with a multitude of smaller parts rendered on enough instruments to stock a neighborhood music store. It’s a highly labor intensive strategy—Everything Is Good Here swarms with guest performers ranging from veteran New York guitar shaman Kid Congo Powers to newcomer Devendra Banhart—but it yields the depth and variety of texture and tonal color Gira craves.

He does know when to back off and just let the bare song shine through, though, as on the delicate, acoustic guitar and piano-driven “What You Were.” And when the sonic whip does come down, as it almost invariably does, it’s more like a cat-o’-nine-tails than the bullwhip of yore. Plus, the density feels good now, infused with country, blues, gospel, and folk, psychedelic by default, and often unabashedly beautiful.

One aspect of Swans that Gira has by no means abandoned are the preoccupations with the darkest aspects of human behavior that fuel his lyrics. There’s enough lust, greed, and despair on Everything Is Good Here to fill a couple Dostoevsky novels. Even that’s changing, though. Much of the old brutality is missing. And on the shimmering, Beatle-ish “Sunset Park,” with its enigmatic variations on “She brings some/ She’ll bring one,” he sounds downright happy.

He seems happy, too—despite the fact that he’s very busy with Young God Records—or maybe because of it. His label is thriving on his terms, with a stellar, wide-ranging roster, solid distribution, and a lavish website, As Gira puts it, “my day job isn’t such a bad one, after all.”