Angels of Light
We Are Him
ichael Gira’s best gospel is born inside himself. For 25 years, with Swans and Angels of Light, Gira’s heaving chest has birthed garbled notions of God, sex, violence, and self. Early Angels records played the music soft, allowing a multi-tracked Gira to swell and spook. The default topic is Gira, something the title of 2005’s The Angels of Light Sing ‘Other People’, a series of character vignettes, told too clearly. Other People’s digressions felt like betrayals of Gira’s path, something We Are Him, an album once again stuffed with villainous, masochistic glee, corrects.
We Are Him summons Young God label mates Akron/Family to back Gira, reprising the role they played on Other People and 2005’s Akron/Angels split. Akron should be chiefly praised for their range here, providing Gira with both Swans-like squall and thorny Americana. They impressively go blow-for-blow with Gira’s carnival baritone, which has rarely ceded so much ground. Dig the house-of-cards axe-work of the title track! The plainsong finger-picking of “Good Bye Mary Lou”! Gira’s moments of absolute domination are fewer, making We Are Him the most sonically balanced work Gira has ever produced.
Emotionally, though, Gira plugs the barrel of his rifle and unloads. “My Brother’s Man” is the most egregious offender. The guitar riff is peg-legged and the drums wheeze. Gira puffs his chest and blows: My brother. I see. During the bridge, only a rhythmic grunt remains: “No, God will never understand / I crush him in my brother’s hand / I am the God of this fucking land / I am the God of this fucking land.”
The first half of We Are Him feeds on this aggressive insularity. There is a thrill in watching Gira chase his tail, because his shelters are so weak. We’s and us’s never sound inclusive, instead suggesting inner multiples. The chain-gang lament “Promise of Water” starts with a taunt—“They live in your head and they travel your mane”—and never adds detail, but Gira eventually uncovers himself: “There’s some people on earth and they scrape in the dust / If we kill them enough they will look just like us.”
Gira and Akron’s attempts to expand the sonic palette produce predictably mixed results from an album with such a single-minded focus. The pysch-pop lush of “Sunflower’s Here to Stay” is exactly as fish-out-of-water as its title sounds, We Are Him’s only true failure. The buoyant horns that propel “Joseph’s Song” are soaked and goofy amidst a glummy stretch while “Good Bye Mary Lou”’s spiced pluck is a minor irritant.
The tenderfooted wandering of the We Are Him’s final third make it less compelling than its flagellating first half but have patience; Gira always gets there. After four minutes of uneventful, inky folk music, “Sometimes I Dream I’m Hurting You” stumbles into steaming, cracked tundra. Thirty seconds later, Gira is taunting God: “Come and swing Your sword / Oh mighty Lord.” Michael, sometimes you dream you’re hurting who? Ah, we see.