Michael Gira: I Am Singing to You From My Room

Foxy Digitalis | by Nick Hennies

One of the most gifted lyricists and songwriters releasing music today

How much pain can one endure before numbness sets in? Since the Swans called it quits and Michael Gira formed Angels of Light his music has been less focused on anger, hate, and ultra-violence and more on less abrasive, though no less intense emotions; to quote Gira, he “learned to dress his rage up in pretty clothing.” Even without the anger of the Swans the Angels of Light, though not without their gentle moments, has always been an incredibly loud band. What would become of Gira’s music if you took away what is seemingly its most unifying force? Gira’s new solo album, recorded at his desk with a single microphone, proves that the primary element of his music is not force and velocity, but song. It’s so refreshing to find that even without primal drumming, piercing guitars, and guttural singing his songs are still remarkably powerful and unsettling. Much like Xiu Xiu’s "Fag Patrol," "I Am Singing to You from My Room" has an intimate and personal touch that only further emphasizes the unspeakable pain and defeat in music that is normally deafeningly loud. Gira has taken away everything except the most basic elements of his music and the result is a collection of touching and impeccably composed songs.

Consistency is a key element here. Each song leads naturally to the next, some tracks sounding almost identical to one another until we hear singing and realize that it is a totally different song. Gira voice and guitar have a cadenced and deliberate rhythm throughout, raising his intensity only in select moments such as “Michael’s White Hands”, and the lush and impassioned “Destroyer”, written at the start of the current war in Iraq. Perhaps most surprising is the number of songs that could easily be described as “beautiful” in the most conventional sense of the word. With lyrical content that is so wrapped up in images of violence and sadness it is surprising that such simple and tonal harmonies lend themselves to Gira’s crushing lyrics so well.

The only thing keeping this album from being one of the best releases of the year is its length. At 17 songs its duration extends well beyond an hour, providing us with enough music to tire even the most vigilant listener. Without the live Angels of Light track (“All Souls Rising”) and the three children’s songs (written for the children of a friend) "I Am Singing…" would be an astonishingly powerful and unified release, a collection of brand new songs and refreshingly spare arrangements of Gira “classics” like “All Lined Up” and “Rose of Los Angeles”. While the final tracks are far from expendable it serves to drastically alter what is otherwise a completely winning and engrossing atmosphere.

What "I Am Singing to You from My Room" really shows is that Michael Gira is not only one of the most fascinating and sometimes disturbing musicians in recent history, he’s also one of the most gifted lyricists and songwriters releasing music today. At once vengeful and helpless, Gira’s music expresses more in one verse than many artists will in their entire output. In a genre so flooded with insincerity and superficiality Michael Gira has given us songs that communicate the unspeakable pain of existence with brutal honesty. He is a masterful artist with a clear and decisive vision who plays with the utmost care for his music and the subjects it encompasses – a national treasure.