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Angels of Light We are Him [Young God Records]

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Rating: 7.8

After Swans disbanded in 1997 and it’s two primary members, Michael Gira and Jarboe, separated both personally and professionally, Gira’s Angels of Light took off and made two great albums, New Mother (1998) and How I Loved You (2001). They were both wonderful recordings in their own right, but they were also just enough of a departure that the results were inevitably less immediate than Swans, even if this departure seemed minor at the time. The Angels of Light then seemed to stagnate a little bit when they released a pretty good album entitled Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home in 2003. At this point something ineffable seemed to be slightly lacking until disappointingly in 2005, Gira managed to release both the worst and most boring record of his career, the inessential Sing Other People with Akron/Faimly as his backing group. The good news is that after two lackluster if not entirely perfunctory releases, the second of which being a split CD with his current backing band, The Angels of Light have finally returned with an album that restores vitality and confidence in their music.

The album contains a good variety of tunes. The first track, “Black River Song ,” has a bludgeoning bass line that is reminiscent of early Swans material. The song throbs and stomps along with an immediate blast of noise. “My Brother’s Man” is another punchy, violent affair. Gira seems to be on the cusp of either murdering or consuming his sibling. The psychotic vocals and lyrics are marvellous. His voice sounds powerful again too. For a while there, Gira was trying to adopt some kind of backwoods country vocal style and it sounded awkward. Luckily, he has returned to his ever so recognizable style of singing and it works so well. This is unsettling and terrific material.

“Promise of Water” sounds like a southern plantation blues song. The percussion sounds like feet periodically stomping and it is accompanied by an ambient drone, a slithering violin and a trance inducing acoustic guitar line. The pace and the lack of musical changes coupled with the building crescendo remind the listener of Swans in their heyday circa 1991-1995. “There’s some people on earth and they scrape in the dust/If you kill them enough they will look just like us,” is just one of the lines delivered with tremendous agility. “And just as it was is just how it will be/For the promise of water I’ll walk on my knees.”

The final track “Star Chaser,” is a beautiful, hypnotic melody that memorably closes We are Him in style. It features reverb heavy lead guitar over an rhythm acoustic guitar line and a dry as bone drum sound. There is a fair amount of echo along with some electric piano that push the song to sound like a lullaby that won’t let you fall asleep. Once again, the songs slowly builds, becoming lovelier as the the piece unfolds until the line “You live on in me” is repeated dreamily until the track time elapses.

We are Him falters in a few places, particularly in the middle, but the record is much more solid than their last two releases. The Angels of Light have been subject to frequent changes in style and sound over the years as the only songwriter and constant member in the band is Michael Gira. Since this is the case with The Angels of Light, the accompanying musicians on each album are what support the songs and ultimately give them breath. The new CD once again contains Akron/Family as the backing band and they have not done Gira much justice on the previous two releases. This time around, however, Gira also chose to work with other musicians in addition to them and had a necessary amount of layering added to the bare versions the songs. Bill Rieflin and Christoph Hahn, both of whom were involved in various incarnations of Swans and Angels of Light, helped to bring an urgency back to the band. The arrangements on this batch of songs are skillful. These two veterans along with other involved personnel, know how to bring Gira’s music to life. Many of the musicians on this album have been absent for several releases and with their inclusion the results are reassuring. Thankfully We are Him is a reminder and a testament revealing that Gira still has the fire and the inspiration within him to create great music.

-Andrew Boe

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By Andrew Boe

I live and work in Seattle and have been here for ten years now. My addictions are records, coffee and red wine. Musically speaking, my tastes are grounded in a space where Leonard Cohen has dinner with the Reid brothers from the Jesus and Mary Chain.