Angels of Light Sing Other People | Review | Sam Ubl

Gira's music is now, shockingly, almost docile

I first knew I liked Angels of Light's Sing "Other People" when my Busch Light-swigging, Kenny Chesney-worshipping ex-roommate-- who hadn't once, in six months, said a word about any of the music I played constantly during our time together-- mistook the singer for Johnny Cash. If you were lead Angel Michael Gira, what would you be more flattered by: Passing for the "man in black", or conveying to someone who had remained so militantly mum about, quite literally, a thousand other bands? Whereas it once might have seemed ludicrous, the comparison is no longer that far off: Nearly 20 years removed from his work with seminal sadist folk-rockers Swans, Gira sounds sobered (if not necessarily sober) and peacefully wearied. Without the drone-soaked meditations and wild-eyed dynamic spirograms, Gira's music is now, shockingly, almost docile. For that alone, Sing "Other People" is a gutsy record. It maintains the band's lo-fi intimacy while expanding its breadth to include back-up singing and more voluminous instrumentation. Fans of Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, the Angels' tumultuous 2003 stab at lysergic folk, shouldn't be faulted for thinking they're hearing a different band altogether. Part of this metamorphosis can be attributed to the assistance of fellow Young God signees Akron/Family, whose self-titled debut is seeing contemporaneous release. Opener "Lena's Song" stakes Gira's booming baritone against a glistening backdrop of nylon-string plucking, fretless bass, glockenspiel, and a chipper Beach Boys-esque vocal harmony. The song proves Angels of Light capable of clarity and levity, qualities missing (not unfortunately) from their previous work. "My Friend Thor" is as subtle an act of self-immolation as a club to the head from its namesake: It starts acoustic, with a laconic Gira following the rigid outline of his strumming, before he's blindsided by a burbling gamelan orchestra. The detour moves the song from the sound of stark isolation to a full-on fireside jamboree, replete with a veritable tabernacle-full of backup vocalists. "Michael's White Hands" and "Purple Creek"-- a pleasantly woozy nocturne that features actual howling-- recall the melodrama of Angels of yore. But Sing "Other People" goes easy on the sexual anger, capitulating to a refreshingly mundane flavor of storytelling. Gira doesn't take the move lightly-- he seems at times to be grasping for well-worn territory before refocusing himself with a rap on the noggin. In the end, the album is like an afternoon in an overstocked Salvation Army thrift store spent trying on heaps and heaps of secondhand merchandise, a lot of which is ridiculously colored, or an awkward fit, etc. But Gira's songs have many one-of-a-kind nuances that tether the album even when it ventures. -, March 25, 2005