CD and LP avaiabul here:
"Michael Gira is one of maybe ten people in the whole world who inspired me to pick up a guitar and try to write songs in the first place. He continues to be a tremendous influence on me. A new Angels of Light record is always cause for celebration around our house, and though each one is always better than the last, this new one is going to be hard to top… Forget everything you know about Michael Gira and Angels of Light, even if you love everything you know about Michael Gira and Angels of Light (which I most certainly do) - We Are Him is an intimidatingly great album and a highlight in a career of highlights…. Michael Gira taught me that you don't need to play loud to play heavy, you don't need to compromise to be a success to those who really count, and all you need to make rock and roll soup is some piss, some vomit, a little blood, and a few hundred wet cigarette butts." - James Toth / Wooden Wand
"We Are Him is the most assured and relaxed Angels of Light album since the debut, and deserves to be considered alongside Gira's highest peaks. The frightening rage of old Swans surfaces several times, albeit in more bucolic clothing; the contrast is bracing. Lyrically Gira's constantly in-pocket, addressing his subjects with renewed agility, but
also in a very relaxed voice; if De Sade had lived long enough to tell folk tales around a campfire, some of them might have sounded like this. The genuinely playful orchestration - banjos? horns? chimes? slide? check – is by turns charming and perverse, and has a band-of-brethren feel to it that's both ominous and exiting. The title track is like a pure shot of adrenaline. An intimate, unexpected masterpiece." - John Darnielle/The Mountain Goats
We Are Him began with my usual vows to keep things simple this time, finally, and I failed once again to live up to the task. I went into the studio with Akron/Family as backing band (as they had been on Other People). We recorded all the basic tracks in a week. They played drums, bass, guitar, piano, and backing vocals. Despite Akron's valorous efforts and fine performances, things sounded thin and tentative to me, so I started calling my friends to help me flesh things out. Christoph Hahn came to Brooklyn from his home in Berlin (Christoph played in Swans for a while, and has played in several Angels incarnations - he has his own group called Les Hommes Sauvage too) and played his usual stellar "kraut-abilly" electric guitar stylings, as well as open-tuned lap steel. That helped considerably, and gave the songs balls, or bowels in many instances, as well as occasionally lifting things up nach Himmel… Next came Bill Rieflin. Bill is as fine a gentleman as you'll ever meet. He also played in Swans at one point. When I met him he was drumming in Ministry. He's since moved on to play with Robert Fripp (off and on I think), Robyn Hitchcock, and he currently is the drummer for REM. He's an incredibly expressive musician, on a variety of instruments. He played: Hammond B3 organ, Moog synthesizer, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums/percussion, piano, casio, and backing vocals and probably 3 or 4 things I can't remember at the moment… Next the spirited and gracious Eszter Balint played fiddle/violin to great effect. She played mostly drone based parts, but injected a lot of feel through inflection and modulation. She's a wonderful player and she also just brings a sense of warmth into the studio which is most welcome. She also sang some backing vocals here and there. Eszter first came to wide public notice through her central role in the film Strangers In Paradise, but she's gone on to become a fine singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter in her own right - look her up!....
Next came Julia Kent on cello and Paul Cantelon on violin. They played multitracked string sections on a few songs here and there, "arranged" on the fly. Julia's a member of Antony and The Johnsons, and she does some arrangements as well as playing therein. Paul is primarily a pianist, composer, arranger and recently a soundtrack composer for some high fallutin' films, the names of which I now forget, but I like the way he plays violin, with lots of warble and feeling. He and Julia work quite well together too and have the added advantage (from my perspective) of tolerating my vague descriptions and out of tune humming-of-part suggestions, and then taking those scanty guidelines and making something musical and fully realized out of them. No mean feat !.. Next came my pal and x-neighbor in Brooklyn Steve Moses. Steve's a drummer and trombone player. He's in the band Alice Donut and also has his own solo extravaganza called Drumbone and also an improv duo called Lambic. He played trombone like a brontosaurus on this record. He also played drums and trombone on a few of Devendra's YGR releases… next came the estimable musical encyclopedia and flute player (and multi instrumentalist ) of true finesse David Garland. He played flute on a few songs, and also did some rather deep backing vocs. He's another great presence to have in the studio, though he's a little intimidating because he's such a repository of all things musical. He hosts the shows (on NYC public radio station WNYC) Evening Music and Spinning On Air. Aside from playing classical music and film scores and more, he's also been a big supporter of people like Devendra, Akron/Family, Mi and L'au and other contemporary rock/folk related music, as well as myself. David's also a songwriter/singer and should be checked out too!...
Next came the glorious Siobhan Duffy and Larkin Grimm, singing "Chick Vox"on several songs (and Siobhan sings a cameo on the song Not Here/Not Now). Siobhan drummed for years in the NYC noise/skronk band God Is My Co-Pilot, but she went on to become the singer of the group Gunga Din, then drumming for Kid Congo and also Flux Information Sciences. She's sadly temporarily retired from music. She's got a very particular and unique voice, and it's a big loss. Larkin is a wild-ass Georgia mountain woman, or She-Shaman, or something. Ha ha! She too has an amazing voice, a huge range and as a songwriter she's eccentric and fiercely expressive and really coming into herself. She's got a few CDs out - look for 'em. We're also in the nascent stages of working on an album that she'll be putting out on Young God Records… Next came my old touring buddy Phil Paleo. Phil was drummer in a band called Cop Shoot Cop, but he played drums and yes, hammer dulcimer in Swans final phase. He played hammer dulcimer on a few songs here… Birgit "Cassis" Staudt played accordion and melodica on a few songs. She's played and toured in several Angels incarnations, and she's a chanteuse you can find playing cabarets and nightclubs in NYC… My big buddy and protector Pat Fondiller played a little mandolin here and there. He did a great job. His hands are bigger than the mandolin! Pat played bass on an Angels tour a while ago, and he also plays in the hard rock combo Smoke Wagon… The record was recorded at Trout Recording by Bryce Goggin and at Seizure's Palace by Jason La Farge, both in Brooklyn, and in fact right around the corner where I used to live. It was mixed by Bryce at Trout. Thanks to them, and all the above! Also big thanks to the fellow musicians/friends who supplied the
extremely kind words about the record on this page… Michael Gira/ YOUNG GOD RECORDS 2007
"the moment I played -we are him- my heart exploded with the feeling 'that voice!!!!!!' and it has done it to me everytime I have ever heard it. From my first cassette of filth to this newest work, michael gira's singing is my favorite gentle violence and lovers strangulation. Now is the best he has ever sounded and I cannot without sounding insanely thrilled express how much this means to me. -we are him- is touching, frightening, wonderfully different and whole." - Jamie Stewart / Xiu Xiu
"What‚s a young turk to do when Michael Gira, at 52, is at the height of his powers? Everything I‚ve loved about his previous work ˆ the apocalyptic soundscapes, the window-shattering drums, the glistening acoustic passages, the voice like God speaking out of the whirlwind - is distilled and reimagined in these songs, and infused with an organic warmth that only makes them the more urgent and harrowing. By turns frightening, funny, cathartic, wise, even strangely sweet, "We Are Him" is a sprawling masterpiece by an artist whose muse seems more fertile than ever." - Jonathan Meiburg / Shearwater
"Michael’s screaming is now finally reborn into something closer to the intensity of Nina Simone than punk rock. The song forms are now clear and strong enough to support vocal performances that sometimes sound like a 25-year-old Michael simultaneously hallucinating and dictating the dark underbelly of the Amercian Dream. And now that this strength and intensity is firmly rooted in tradition it can take on a whole new level of meaning and interplay and understanding that I find simply wonderful. This is not indie rock or Americana, this is authentic American music; or as Gram Parsons said, ' Cosmic American Music ' " - Seth Olinsky / Akron/Family
SOME REVIEWS BELOW (MORE PRESS)
by Peter Hepburn
Angels of Light: "We Are Him"
From We Are Him (Young God; 2007)
Michael Gira -- leader of Swans, occasional solo artist, and single best/scariest voice in rock -- is back with a new album under the Angels of Light moniker in August. As always, new M. Gira material is reason to get excited, especially now that he has the daunting task of following up the excellent Sing Other People and a split LP with Akron/Family that had us all worked up back in '05. If the title track is any indication, We Are Him looks to be another jump forward. Working with Akron/Family again, Gira seems to be moving more toward the full-band rock that much of his post-Swans material has avoided. Even though the track heads into familiar territory (especially with the droning intro), the thick rhythm section and driving pulse that Akron/Family bring with them indicates a very different Angels of Light.
Even the best songs off Sing Other People occasionally felt somewhat like lightly-adorned Gira solo tracks; A/F were along for the ride, but they felt added-on rather than integral to the process. "We Are Him," as well as the recently posted "Black River Song," demonstrates the power of a more collaborative relationship. The band chugs along as Gira chants and preaches his way over the top. They rip through a couple of nasty solos, though, and the banshee backing vocals fit the track perfectly. Gira doesn't maintain the grim stoicism or quiet scariness that has informed so much of his solo material and earlier Angels of Light work, but at this point he's more than proven his flexibility as an artist. 25 years and good number of genre jumps after the first Swans EPs and Gira continues to produce innovative, exciting music.
By Keith Moline
Angels Of Light
We Are Him
Young God CD
Michael Gira continues to suffer from having each new album, each new
fugitive direction he takes, compared with his early work, produced in
just a few short years in the early 80s. While his group Swans made
some of the slowest, heaviest and most grindingly relentless music
ever created on albums like Filth (1983) and Cop (1984), for more than a decade of their lifespan - Gira disbanded the group in 1997 - their
work was multifaceted, sweeping and often acoustic. As for his later
work under the Angels Of Light banner, the unremitting moroseness that Gira has often been accused of - perhaps not without justification
when you consider lines like "God damn anyone that says a kind word"
(from 1988's "God Damn The Sun") - has for the most part been replaced
by honest simplicity and generosity of spirit.
For this fifth Angels Of Light album, Gira has again recruited acid
pastoralists Akron/Family to realize his songs, which are usually
composed on acoustic guitar. Some of the musicians featured on early
releases New Mother (1999) and How I Loved You (2001) have returned to
flesh out We Are Him's arrangements. Gira has in the past bemoaned
his difficulty in resisting the temptation to obsess over sonic
details, but those who found the last couple of albums a little too
dry and sparse will surely enjoy this one's lusher textures. We Are Him is the most widescreen Angles album to date without ever spilling
over into the production excesses of Swans; further, it retains the
freshness and immediacy that is a hallmark of Akron/Family's work.
Nothing feels superfluous; the instrumentation, though compellingly
mercurial, in never intrusive or overwrought, allowing Gira's
songwriting to command centre stage.
And a superb set of songs it is. His early work explored the
narratives opened up between each repetition of a single riff or line
of lyric, and how abjection, violence and blank nihilism could
multiply exponentially with each hammer blow drum kick or solemn
acoustic strum. The younger Gira may have been loath to admit to any
weakness - by his own account he could be a nasty piece of work - but
at the heart of all his music lay vulnerability and a longing for
transcendence. Such yearning was heightened rather than crushed by
his monolithic musical constructs.
The difference with We Are Him is that he has become adept at
expressing it all with such candor, precision and economy. Certainly
repetition still plays its part, as on the opening "Black River Song" in which a monstrous blues riff cycles around on itself until the album's first chord change, which arrives about ten seconds before the
song ends. But the repetition has nothing to do with bludgeoning
monomania; it's all about trance-fuled abandon and release.
Gira's words continue to conflate opposites of sin and redemption,
good and evil, hope and despair. In the past this bordered on the
gratuitous, a blunt undercutting of positive potential by sheer boundless cynicism. But here it feels like an attempt to synthesize
something strong and true, as if they aren't opposites but mirror
images: "Black River runs, beneath the ground/Receiving the days that
feed the night/Black River flows through the belly of everyone/Fading,
growing, fading, flowing." In Gira's world, the breath of artistic
inspiration, the memory of departed friends and family,
personifications of love and cruelty, vengeful and forgiving gods, all
of these intermingle, coursing through the land, the body and even the
blood, though he is never explicit as to whether this is cause for
celebration or terror: "There is no place to run from Joseph's
truth/His hands are on your throat but feeding you" ("Joseph's Song").
If this all sounds like serious stuff, you're right. Yet there are
some sparkling pop songs on We Are Him. The title track is built on a
joyous glam rock stomp, bursting through a folk-drone intro and never
letting up, while pastel guitars open and close "The Man We Left
Behind", a waltz time confessional that crosses gossamer Byrdsian
Country rock with the offhand gravitas of Leonard Cohen. "Not
Here/Not Now" rides out on some inspired Western guitar twang and
" Sometimes I Dream I'm Hurting You" features goofy Nuggets-style
garage rock organ, while "Sunflower's Here To Stay" even boasts a coda that recalls The Turtles' "Happy Together" (though the title might indicate that Gira actually had The Beach Boys in mind).
Generally, though, the mood is one of calm reflection. In the past
Gira's famed intensity has felt a bit too pat, his victories too
easily won; here, the power of a song like "Star Chaser" is heightened
by the restraint of its arrangement. It's another wrenching waltz
that recasts autobiographical detail into a kind of modern tragic
folklore. Gira has characterized himself as "the type of person that
immediately abstracts experience as it occurs" (in The Wire 233), and
it's this gift (or curse, perhaps) that imbues his work with a near
mythical depth and range. Nothing on We Are Him will startle like old
classics such as "Raping A Slave" or "A Screw", but these songs will
get under your skin (to use a recurring Gira image) and remain with
you for a long time to come.
Angels of Light
We Are Him
[Young God; 2007]
Grayson Currin, August 14, 2007
A year ago, writing for Perfect Sound Forever, Brian Hell buried himself in a series of questions about lyrics with Michael Gira. The Angels of Light Sing "Other People"-- the fifth album from Gira's prime project since Swans' end in 1997-- had just been released. The most telling question and answer refer to "Simon Is Stronger Than Us", a playful song with Akron/Family, then Gira's backing band, teasing his broad baritone with yelps for harmonies. Hell inquired if the line "And Francis did that, too, though Francis trawled London and made no excuse" was a reference to Irish painter Francis Bacon: "Well yes, I am referring to Francis Bacon there, very astute of you," the singer replied.
Of course Gira would reference Bacon, call him by name even: Articulating with screams, something Bacon specialized in while painting, has been paramount to Gira's aesthetic for a quarter century now. On We Are Him-- his sixth and arguably most engaging album as Angels of Light-- he lands some of the best of those complete releases. Gira seems more empowered and commanding than he has in a decade, the emotions he's conveying coming in huge fits that, like Bacon's, are as powerful as they are draining. He's backed by one of the most impressive guest lists of the year (Akron/Family providing the basic tracks, plus new friends or longtime collaborators Larkin Grimm, David Garland, and Bill Rieflin), but one must understand that this is Gira's album. He lets it all out and wastes little time: Four seconds into the colossal opening track, "Black River Song", for instance, a thick electric bass knock pumps against every heavy drum hit and compacted guitar sinew: "Black river runs/ beneath this ground/ Black river flows forever/ But he makes no sound." The chorus-- some variation of the series, "Fading, growing, breathing, flowing," sung by Gira and female voices-- is sinister, challenging and almost sexy.
A track later, a rocking-chair rhythm moans beneath Gira's snarl. He's rarely sounded this foreboding: Prodded by a scathing, raw violin drone and a daring chorus of sirens, it's an escalating dirge for the collapse of society, full of floods, blood and mouths too stupid to scream. Beneath an electric guitar twitter, heavy drums and furious strings on "My Brother's Man", Gira hands down these imprecations: "I walk through the thick black mud. I walk with my brother's blood. I see with my brother's eye. I scream at my brother's sky." Swans, anyone?
But this record isn't so simple. "My Brother's Man" notes that the brother is capable of murder and so is Gira. But it embraces the relationship, vowing to crush god "in my fucking hand" for the sake of fraternal legacy. It's protective, triumphant. The subsequent "This Is Not Here"-- a dark duet with Gira's wife, Siobhan Duffy-- offers the lovers choices and endings: Will the world steal the sun, or will the lovers touch the light? "Will you dream that we breathe?" It's not about anger or fatalism. In 1984, Gira screamed about burning and eating hearts on "Raping a Slave"; in 1995, he sang about supplication to God while witnessing the fragility of the world during "Our Love Lies". We Are Him is a near-perfect, totally committed summation hammering at the same unresolved archetypes from someone who's now a father.
That's not to say that this album is without its share of misses, or at least the occasional artistic anomie that has, by now, become a requisite of Gira's work. Those songs aren't better left unsung: "Goodbye Mary Lou" has a purpose, its rhythm an uneasy country twitter that leaves Gira little room to do much but say exactly what he's feeling. The first verse ends "Mary Lou, I renounce you"; the second, "Mary Lou, fuck you"; and in closing, the indiscretions of young anger that have been boiling for a lifetime come crashing down with a wink: "Oh Mary Lou, I forgive you."
We Are Him is ultimately about getting by, about trying to survive with a family and a faith at a time when "the dogs...howl as the street fills with blood." Gira, at 53, continues to evolve, to challenge himself, to question his beliefs. As long as he does that, every song won't roar like the perfect first two tracks of We Are Him or have the brilliant gospel insistence of the title track. The slight, charming chamber pop he tries won't always work as it does on "Sunflower's Here to Stay", a song that pushes for persistence. Luckily, doing otherwise has never been an option for Gira.