Angels of Light | Review | Emerson Dameron

The Angels of Light Sing "Other People"

Michael Gira is rock¹s king of catharsis ­ this, he¹s established. As the main man behind Swans, he journeyed through industrial crunch and pound into a symphonic, Rhys Chatham etherworld, all the while unafraid to wallow in grandiosity that might send Nick Cave back to Bible camp. Four albums in, Angels of Light appears to be Gira¹s new full-time gig. With it, he¹s supplanted his old aggression with an ear for icy neo-folk beauty and clinical detachment befitting a Burroughs protag. Of course, until lately, his despairing lyrics still dealt with broken lives, decaying flesh as a metaphor for various things, etc.

On Other People, his focus shifts to hope, an altogether more slippery subject than all the world¹s hungover depression, however wrenching. The new disc¹s warmest ballads (³My Sister Said² and ³On the Mountain²) tender broad reassurance; its most eccentric experiments (³Simon Is Stronger Than Us² and ³My Friend Thor²) toast specific pals. MG remains more coroner than crooner (before he thanks Thor for saving his life, he reminds him that his ³dogs smell like dead things²), but hearing him wax tender sans acheŠit¹s, at the least, unusual.

Of course, Gira has always respected his collaborators. Depending on who else drops by the studio, he varies his approach and reaps different rewards. His partnership with Georgian uber-goth Jarboe drew Swans out of boom-crunch sadism and into the gentler work for which they¹re best known. Before Vice magazine boarded his jock, beach-lovin¹ California folkie Devendra Banhart worked with the Angels ­ their Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home and his Rejoicing In the Hands clearly share oxygen.

Now, Gira works in partnership with Akron/Family, recently signed to his Young God label. A/F¹s self-titled debut will be released in tandem with Other People, which, musically, sounds a lot like Akron/Family featuring M. Gira. More than any of his other work, it recalls What We Did, his joint venture with Windsor for the Derby¹s D. Matz.

Swans diehards might not dig it. As one, I know we don¹t dig a lot of things. But the same thing happens whenever Gira puts a new team together. Here, he¹s a lot less gruesome, a tad less somber, and a different musician than we¹re used to. Relax. Let the man handle his business. Next time he puts out a true solo record, it¹ll likely be no less harrowing than 1995¹s Drainland, his darkest and least accessible hour. For now, it¹s good to hear he¹s found some light without, like his most undeniable forebear L. Cohen, dabbling in lite jazz. That, amigos, would be shadenfreude.

Exactly one track on Other People echoes Gira¹s visceral history with none of the Family¹s airy playfulness. That¹d be ³Michael¹s White Hands,² which rumbles toward its bellowed ³These hands of love / Are hands that choke² like the most enduringly creepy Swans numbers. Even if Other People ain¹t your mug of Sleepytime, give Gira this: He¹s still got it, he¹s still exploring, he¹s the most gracefully over-the-top producer in music today. And he can still gross us out.