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Angels of Light - We Are Him

We Are Him is unarguably the most accessible collection of songs that Michael Gira has released. With Akron/Family once again acting as his backing band it draws heavily on backwoods Americana. Much of the music is tinged with touches of country and western, bluegrass, gospel in a more startling manner than previous Angels of Light releases. Although he marshalls the talents of Akron/Family, Gira appears to be much more in control here, enlisting additional musical support from former Swans members, and others including Julia Kent (of Antony and the Johnsons) to embelish the songs. It's a pure crystallisation of his previous releases, that will enthrall followers of his work. We Are Him hammers home the point that Michael Gira is continually developing as a songwriter, even straying into some surprising and previously uncharted territories.

The opener 'Black River Song' features an exasperated Gira vocal delivering the lyrics like a midwest preacher's sermon, backed by a congregation of voices, over a subtle interplay involving jangling bells, pummeling percussion and a needling guitar line. It's harnessed to a monolithic crawl that lasts until the last 20 seconds or so before it lurches to the end. Then there's 'My Brother's Man' which opts for a primal southern stomp, with Gira fired up and spittin' lines like "No God will ever understand. I crush him in my brother's hand. I am the god of this fucking land. I am my brother's man". With its sloppy bass, niggling guitar lines and thunderous percussion the entire track is like the Swans wrestling with Nick Cave's 'Tupelo'.

His laconic drawl on 'Promise of Water' contrasts marvellously with the lilting acoustic melody, as a violin weaves underneath and ominous harmonies surround like a desert based Manson family singalong. The country-waltz of 'The Man We Left Behind' is almost a song written to himself when he tellingly imparts the lines "Now the future's unfolding, and the past it's a lie, so send our regards to, the man we left behind".

It takes until the sixth track, 'Joseph's Song' until the real change in Angels of Light really becomes apparent. From a delicate guitar and maudlin vocal a pumping brass section recalling the Beach Boys 'Trombone Dixie' appears to accompany the remainder of the song. The title track is a rabid glam stomper, complete with obligatory handclaps, where Gira lets loose with a rousing, celebratory paean. It's pure revelation through celebration. Even the inherent violence of 'Sometimes I Dream I'm Hurting You' caught between frosted guitar lines and lamentful piano, bursts into a swinging sixties organ, as Gira calls for a vengeful god to strike down the protagonist.

Gira may have wallowed in pity, disgust and degradation in the early years of the Swans but on We Are Him he's supplemented his brutal vision with something close to optimism. Violence, murder, blood, hate still feature heavily in his lyrics but they're tempered with references to life, light and love. Now in his early fifties Gira appears almost resigned to himself to the point that he can happily pen something as blatantly up as 'Sunflower's Here To Stay', which with its Beatlesque brass arrangements and massed harmonies, is pure sunshine pop, inspired in part by the hyper-colourful personalities of Genesis P. Orridge and Devendra Banhart. 'Good Bye Mary Lou' is a bit of a country hoedown, where the Angels of Light go almost bluegrass. 'The Visitor' with its county guitar twang, is a beautifully melancholic admission of love couched in soft harmonies, while the closer, 'Star Chaser', is a subtle rendering of reverbed electric guitar with Gira's voice shadowed by his wife, Siobhan Duffy. I make no apologies for referencing so many tracks here, the simple truth is that under the guises of Swans and Angels of Light Michael Gira created many good records, We Are Him is a great one. Recommended. For more information go to