Angels of Light | Review | Jennifer Kelly

A rare, perfect instance of collaboration

A rare, perfect instance of collaboration, where two distinct sets of talents merge into something larger than its parts, this split CD documents the euphoric, live side of Young God's latest discovery alongside the more melodic, acoustic face of its founder, Michael Gira. The disc followed on the Angels of Light/Akron/Family tour of last spring, where the Brooklyn-based experimental collective supported Gira as opening and backing band. It was recorded quickly after the two bands returned from Europe, coming together from start to finish in a little over a week. Both Akron/Family's self-titled debut and Angels' most recent Sings Other People were fine, well-crafted works, and both ranked among the best of this year's offerings. Yet this CD, loose and tossed-off as it is, eclipses both of them. The disc showcases Akron/Family's wide musical range, their ability to move from acoustic musings to free improv jams to campfire harmonies in the space of an eye-blink, and to integrate all these things with no seams showing into freewheeling wholes. Their "Future Myth," epic at eight minutes long, comes in as if from great distance, wordless vocals and abstract drumming coming slowly into focus as the song itself approaches. There's a prog-like expansiveness to the long, dreamy intro, which merges, no seams showing, with a glockenspiel-lit, folk-driven verse. The two elements coexist, grandeur and simplicity together as in a Brueghel painting, the small figures to the foreground, looming mountains behind. "Raising the Sparks" is, if anything, drawn on an even larger scale. Its '70s-prog guitars drive in lock-step with the snare 4/4s, under a winding, weaving, heavily harmonized melody. Akron/Family are rightly known for their multi-voiced harmonies. In this track, all four members join to create shifting textures of chord and discord, erupting finally into a joyous ritual chant of yips and barks and intonations, where everyone says "Raise the Sparks" at different times and in different tones. There are also some quieter cuts, such as the lovely, translucently simple "Oceanside," with its slow strums and thoughtful verses. The center here is the singing, simple and unforced, with that right-here-next-to-you quality that Gira has achieved with other protégés, most notably Devendra Banhart. Even when the track picks up additional instrumentation ‹ piano, horns and percussion ‹ it remains full of space and light. Gira starts his segment of the split with his version of Dylan's “Pity the Poor Immigrant” (Dylan’s version appeared on the countrified, return-to-the-game John Wesley Harding), an interesting choice for someone who has emerged from his post-punk past in a more traditional acoustic mode. The Angels' version of this song, which has also been covered by Joan Baez, Gene Clark and Judy Collins, is nearly as spare as the original, embellished only with languid guitar, shuffling percussion and the sweet unearthly harmonies of Akron/Family. "The Provider," up next, harks back to the Angels of Light's earlier, more dramatic songs. With its long, anxiety-building intro, high plucked upbeats and ominous low guitar notes, it is much darker and more threatening than anything up to this point on the split. Mid-song it surges into a wild vocal chorus, howled as much as sung, and braced by bouts of feedback, much like "Rose of Los Angeles" from Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home. The most effective collaboration on the disc, though, is probably "One for Hope," a track that mixes Gira's dark ruminations with Akron/Family's buoyancy. The distinctive styles ‹ Gira's deep, hollow baritone against soaring voices ‹ combine in a way that underlines both their strengths, giving Gira an unusual lightness and Akron a gravitas they don't always have. Lots of artists talk about collaborating, but very rarely do their energies combine so seamlessly or create something so distinct as this. Very highly recommended.