Those who know Michael Gira strictly from his work as frontman for noise-rock legends Swans may have a difficult time imagining him indulging in folk-influenced sounds. Swans were abrasive, depraved, confrontational and blatantly offensive — adjectives that arenï¿½t often associated with folk music. But through his label, Young God Records, Gira has not only released troubadour Devendra Banhartï¿½s breakthrough albums but also work from his own acoustic-minded band, the Angels of Light. The groupï¿½s fourth full-length, The Angels of Light Sing ï¿½Other People,ï¿½ is characteristically bulgy, brimming and wide-ranging, but itï¿½s also less charged than previous efforts.
The albumï¿½s abundant acoustic instrumentation and liberal use of backing vocals create a surprisingly warm communal atmosphere. Opener ï¿½Lenaï¿½s Songï¿½ encapsulates the tone perfectly; its ramshackle handclaps, harmonica and whistles recall Animal Collective and the Books at their most jubilant. Gira endows each track with a full sound, but drums are nearly nonexistent, contributing to the more-inviting folk vibe. The Angels get carried away on ï¿½My Friend Thor,ï¿½ though, veering from music-box noise to barbershop/Medulla-like vocals. While interesting individually, the elements never coalesce satisfactorily.
A sense of optimism and redemption that nonetheless acknowledges pain pervades The Angels of Light Sing ï¿½Other People.ï¿½ The albumï¿½s opening lines, backed by rousing music, sum up the mood: ï¿½Lena has sung/ But sheï¿½ll sing again/ Beneath a desert sun/ In withered skin.ï¿½ Even ï¿½Destroyer,ï¿½ a politically loaded song about the consequences of war, is defiantly triumphant, despite the wrathful titular deity who comes ï¿½Down from the sun/ To wash this country clean.ï¿½ The becalmed acoustic guitars and booming chorus contradict the dark subject matter, something that happens often throughout the album. No track reaches the raucous heights of ï¿½Rose of Los Angelesï¿½ from this albumï¿½s predecessor, 2003ï¿½s Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home, but Gira breathes fire on ï¿½Michaelï¿½s White Hands,ï¿½ an ominous and eddying composition that gathers considerable steam. Other People proves the Angels of Light can wring intimacy as well as turmoil from their overflowing sound.