Angels of Light

Sing 'Other People'

(Young God; 2005)

By Scott Reid | 13 April 2005

As confused as newcomers to Angels of Light are going to be when they first hear Michael Gira's creepy baritone transform the atmosphere of opener "Lena's Song," it's his long-time fans that are in for that the bigger surprise. Instead of merely retreading Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home, Gira opted instead to recrute a new backing group --- recent Young God signees Akron/Family, whose remarkable talents as art-folk arrangers and multi-instrumentalists Gira says "changed everything."

He's not being modest. The transformation is huge, shunning both his name-making noise/noir-rock days with the Swans and even the brooding quality of the last Angels record in turn for a gothic stab at psych-folk. Gira's more-Reed-than-Cohen growl is swarmed with hashed-out Smiley Smile-isms, Animal Collective-lite vocal sporadics and enough tools of the psych and folk trades (banjo, acoustic guitar, organ, casios, glockenspiel, slide guitar, etc.) to make the record's side-step into a less deathly sounding and slightly more accessible genre a very fluid and natural one.

Really, it's a perfect fit. Gira's always been an exceptional storyteller, and each of the record's twelve character dissections --- from "Destroyer's" heavy condemnation of new media's "Mesopotamian abyss" (his words, not mine) to phenomenal takes on bittersweet working class pertinacity like "Dawn" --- carry their own significant weight outside of Akron's musical dexterity, which would probably steal the show if it weren't for Gira's voice. It's not even that Akron/Family vie to overtake his songs (given the way he completely owns "Simon is Stronger Than Us" and "Michael's White Hands," they don't stand a chance), but entrusted with the rather large task of keeping an entire record's worth of goth-folk interesting throughout, their ability to offer as much appeal as Gira's narratives is commendable. Worth reading about in every paragraph? Arguable.

But just listen to how they arrange the incredible "Dawn" with looming harmonic swells and a simple, apposite lead guitar line; or the the way they come gloriously close to producing a Band/VU collab with "On the Mountain's" parlour piano and banjo welcoming Gira's return to half-way melodic vocalizing. Hell, even when he opts for a monotonal delivery on "My Friend Thor" and "The Kid is Already Breaking," Akron/Family push themselves harder. Take the potentially plodding "Purple Creek" as another example: they infuse an atmosphere as eerie as Bob Drake's excellent The Shunned Country with a level of coherency Drake has always purposely avoided. In fact, only on "Jackie's Spine" and "Destroyer" does the music turn complacent, offering little except repetition.

But enough about a few ignorable faults. More highlights: "My Sister Said's" notable lyrics ("I'll kill that man / I'll hunt him down / He'll understand what he's done to you") are backed with a beautiful banjo-and-slide guitar arrangement, while "Michael's White Hands" (you have to read Gira's own history of the song on the Young God Records link at the end of this review) chases it with comparatively vicious exclamations more in line with Gira's previous work. Actually, the whole second half of the record ("Jackie's Spine" and "To Live Through Someone," less so) are nearly flawless.

As key as "Michael's White Hands" is to giving the record a much needed variety, it's still the slower, unexpectedly gorgeous touches on tracks like "Lena's Song," "Dawn" and "My Sister Said" that hit the hardest. Issues of warming up to his vocals aside (Sing actually makes it easier than any Gira release before it), Sing 'Other People' is another left-field triumph for Gira, and --- following Akron/Family and both of last year's Devendra Banhart records --- another significant release for his label.