We Are Him is the fifth album from Angels of Light, the main vehicle for Michael Gira's music since he disbanded Swans in 1997. Gira is also known lately as the label master and in-house producer for Young God Records, responsible for the likes of Devendra Banhart, Akron/Family, and Lisa Germano, among many others, further widening the scope and influence of his 25 years of music-making. We Are Him is a potent new chapter in a fiercely individual and remarkable musical journey. Backing/contributing musicians include Akron/Family, Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Swans, Robert Fripp, and currently drummer for both Robyn Hitchcock and REM), Julia Kent (Antony and the Johnsons) Christoph Hahn (longtime Angel and former Swan) and many, many more... "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. He 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...We Are Him is an intimidating great album and a highlight in a career of highlights." - 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... The title track is like a pure shot of adrenaline. An intimate, unexpected masterpiece." - John Darnielle/The Mountain Goats "The moment i played We Are Him my heart exploded with the feeling 'that voice!!!!!!' and it has done it to me every time i have ever heard it since... now is the best Michael Gira 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
Review by Richie Unterberger
On Angels of Light's fifth album, leader Michael Gira offers arty Americana-like tunes that aren't too far removed from Nick Cave in the way they're both written and sung. Gira isn't as strong, or scary, a singer as Cave; in fact, at times he sounds a little like a latter-day counterpart to Lee Hazlewood with some Leonard Cohen thrown in, especially on the most country-oriented of the songs, "This Is Not Here." But certainly this is much more tuneful and subdued an affair than many would expect from the former band behind Swans, the noisy post-punk group for which Gira will probably always be most noted and notorious. That doesn't mean it's an average alternative rock record, as Gira brings a dry, sardonic edge to his vocals, and still occasionally leans on grinding rhythms to drive his points home. More often than not, however, these are reflective if fairly downbeat songs with a slight country-folk feel, which combined with his slightly drawling elongated vocal style sometimes make it seem like a record that should have come out of the Southwest, not Brooklyn. It's not all in that vein; "Sunflower's Here to Stay" is surely as happy and poppy a tune as Gira's likely to come up with, indicating there might be a Kinks and early Pink Floyd fan underneath all that art damage. Judicious use of female backup vocals also lightens the mood, though even the brighter tracks are still something of a candy-coated poison pen given the dark sentiments they often cloak. Even in this mellowed state, Gira's still never going to be a majority taste, but Angels of Light come up with a thoroughly respectable and diversely arranged vehicles for his vision on We Are Him, traipsing through an array of interesting moods without diluting the leader's offbeat visions.
Angels of Light
We Are Him
[Young God; 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 drawed 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.
-Grayson Currin, August 14, 2007