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  Other People  
  Angels of Light  
  Young God  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Mr Pharmacist  

I confess a serious ignorance of The Swans. Michael Gira’s first gig was not on my radar during the formative years, although I did know a Swans fan or two. Most of them put shoe polish in their hair. As a result, it just seemed that Gira and his acolytes must be either pretentious or sick. Worse, they could have been both. Either way, my small town mind was at risk. Now, as a mature and wizened adult, I now longer feel the need to judge others based on their choice of hair products, no matter how eccentric. The years have made me open to new things and, judging from Gira's latest project, The Angels of Light Sing "Other People" and his stint as label guru with Young God Records, a revision is in order.

At first sonic glance, Angels of Light seem more rooted in the current psychedelic folk, New Weird America music thing. Gira's certainly had some hand in the movement, since his championing of Devandra Banhart helped set the scene. As I vaguely recall, The Swans were all bludgeoning noise and naughty impulses, dark in a "staring into the depths of my soul and seeing nothing but the blackness of Satan's behind" kind of way. Not so with Angels of Light. There's a lightness and humor in the foreground. Sure, there's a sepulchral creak in Gira's voice and some seriously warped lyrics within, yet these elements never seem to spoil the party. I'm told by those who know that the sounds he makes now were buried in early Swans, surfacing to prominence in later efforts. If Angels of Light reflect an evolution, or maybe a continuation, of former musical strands à la Nick Cave post The Birthday Party, it certainly lets in a lot more humor and melody.

To the point, his moat recent album, The Angels of Light Sing "Other People", is a winning combination of purposefully misinterpreted tradition and quirk. Each song has a fairly conventional acoustic skeleton, an Americana backbone with hand claps, musings on Norse gods and a sundry fate or two to fill in the flesh. The combination of oddity and traditional song craft is done deftly. Gira sings in a stately baritone, his songs straightforward but flecked with hints of previous Swans perversity. Humor and melody blend often. It might be strange to report such characteristics when dealing with someone of Gira's goth serious reputation, but there's a real impression that all involved are having fun. It's infectious. Even when the narrative moves to things gloomy, added textures keep you from feeling the same old ennui. It doesn't seem like Gira's breaking a mold as much as he's holding it up at a new angle, letting you see things always there but out of sight before.

It doesn't all work. The restless quirks and textures can sometimes make for a crowded song. I experienced a shock or two at where things went, as opposed to pleasant surprise. Some of the songs faded too, after repeated listens. A herky jerky rhythm or three made the mind wander after a bit. That said, there is no sense of laziness, or of a failing of the muse. The stumbles, which where few, seemed more the result of Gira's creative urges outrunning his grasp.

All stumbles aside, the album had more than one good effect on this listener. Im curious about that Angels of Light and Swans back catalogue. There's a spark in Gira I'd like to pursue. It seems the Swans' early stuff has all been reissued on Young Gods. It's also ripe for a revisit. I'm hoping there's pretension, perversity and more.

Related Links:

Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, the previous album by Angels of Light.


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