Angels of Light | Lush Light
catsmusic.com | 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 likesâ€”at least when it comes to making recordsâ€”and heâ€™s not the least bit shy about discussing his preferences. â€œMy favorite thing,â€ the recording artist, producer, and head of Young God Records explains via e-mail, â€œis 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.â€
The making of Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, the third and latest release by Giraâ€™s main project, The Angels of Light, must have been a very panic-stricken affair indeed. Itâ€™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 vocalsâ€”lots of them), all meticulously orchestrated for maximum dramatic effect. As Gira writes: â€œI ended up saturating every available molecule of the recording tape with sound.â€
Giraâ€™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 melodiesâ€”â€œghost tones,â€ as theyâ€™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.
â€œThe initial agenda for Angels,â€ he relates, â€œwas to write simple songs, minimally orchestrated, but when I hear an initial bit of music Iâ€™ve recorded on tape, the first thing I think about is how it could be MORE.â€ Nowadays, Gira pursues that â€œmoreâ€ just as doggedly as everâ€”but with a multitude of smaller parts rendered on enough instruments to stock a neighborhood music store. Itâ€™s a highly labor intensive strategyâ€”Everything Is Good Here swarms with guest performers ranging from veteran New York guitar shaman Kid Congo Powers to newcomer Devendra Banhartâ€”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 â€œWhat You Were.â€ And when the sonic whip does come down, as it almost invariably does, itâ€™s more like a cat-oâ€™-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. Thereâ€™s enough lust, greed, and despair on Everything Is Good Here to fill a couple Dostoevsky novels. Even thatâ€™s changing, though. Much of the old brutality is missing. And on the shimmering, Beatle-ish â€œSunset Park,â€ with its enigmatic variations on â€œShe brings some/ Sheâ€™ll bring one,â€ he sounds downright happy.
He seems happy, tooâ€”despite the fact that heâ€™s very busy with Young God Recordsâ€”or maybe because of it. His label is thriving on his terms, with a stellar, wide-ranging roster, solid distribution, and a lavish website, www.younggodrecords.com. As Gira puts it, â€œmy day job isnâ€™t such a bad one, after all.â€