Angels of Light
TIME OUT NY #493 | Steve Smith
FAMILY MAN Michael Gira surrounds himself with old friends and new acquaintances on stage.(FULL PAGE LEAD MUSIC FEATURE, W/PICTURE) MARCH 10-16 '05 ISSUE
ItÂ¹s radio promo mailing day at the Carroll Gardens headquarters of Young God Records, and label head Michael Gira is a busy man - busy stuffing envelopes. Sitting at a sturdy wooden table, the imposing former front man of industrial-rock pioneers Swans packs padded mailers with new CDs by his current group Angels of Light, and his new signing Akron/Family, (TheyÂ¹re the same band, more or less, but weÂ¹ll get to that later.)
Apart from the hours spent in the studio or on the road, Gira, 51, estimates that running Young God occupies 80 percent of his time and energy. For a working musician, that doesnÂ¹t seem like an ideal arrangement. Â³No,Â² he agrees, Â³but itÂ¹s not like I expect to be treated like some precious artist. I have a label, itÂ¹s a responsibility, and I enjoy it. There are tedious aspectsÂ² Â he gestures towards the CDs and envelopes Â Â³but itÂ¹s better than hanging sheetrock, which I couldnÂ¹t physically do anymore anyway.Â²
ItÂ¹s also fair to say that Gira devoted a fair amount of attention over the last four years to freak-folk flag bearer Devendra Banhart, whose burgeoning fame could be viewed as Young GodÂ¹s first break-out success. Having released three albums and an EP on the label, the artist has moved on to Beggars Banquet. Justifiably proud of Banhart, Gira now waxes enthusiastic about Akron/Family, a Brooklyn-based quartet whose self-titled debut comes out Tuesday 15 March.
Â³When I finished Å’all Devendra, all the time,Â¹ I finally had time to go through the stacks of demos that had accumulated,Â² Gira says. Â³I put theirs on and almost panicked at how good it was. I went to see them at PeteÂ¹s Candy Store, and they were phenomenal. I got to know them a little bit, brought them over to my house. ItÂ¹s important to me that anybody I work with can just come hang out, walk the dog with me, actually be a friend Â or at least companionable. They passed that test, so we started working together.Â²
GiraÂ¹s first order of business was to produce the bandÂ¹s debut. Â³A lot of time was spent just trying to keep them in check, because we had a limited budget,Â² he recalls, laughing. Inspired by Akron/FamilyÂ¹s almost reckless creativity, Gira drafted the entire band to play on his own new album, The Angels of Light Sing Â³Other People,Â² which also comes out on Tuesday. An extensive tour opens with a Tonic benefit on Friday 11, at which Akron/Family will open with its own set, then back Gira as Angels of Light.
The wholesale replacement of GiraÂ¹s backing band raises the question: Was there some kind of breakdown between the singer and his collaborators? Â³A couple of them moved to Berlin,Â² Gira offers. Â³But yes, before I dismantled the whole thing and started over, it was starting to sound like a band, which I donÂ¹t really want. IÂ¹m more interested in trying to make a little cinematic vision for each record. IÂ¹d rather look at a song as a potential arrangement, rather than as something that these four people play.Â²
As the title implies, most of GiraÂ¹s songs on Â³Other PeopleÂ² are tributes to friends, abstracted just enough to remove biographical specificity. Like the hazy, blurred photographs that appear in the CD booklet, each song evokes the barely discernible outline of a distinct individual. Only the scabrous Â³MichaelÂ¹s White Hands,Â² which conjoins the King of PopÂ¹s travails and the war in Iraq, does the music assume the vehemence of Swans. Otherwise, the tone is by turns wistful and bucolic. Oddball instrumentation and soaring vocal harmonies suggest that Gira and Akron/Family might be pulling pet sounds directly out of Brian WilsonÂ¹s cracked noggin.
A self-admitted control freak, Gira loosened up on the new album, inspired in part by Akron/FamilyÂ¹s spontaneity. Â³Some of the qualities in my voice frighten me a little bit Â a little out of tune, you know?Â² he says. Â³But I just let it go on this one, and I probably will from now on. IÂ¹m sick of having a near coronary with every record I do.Â²