Singer-songwriter Michael Gira put to rest the New York City-based Swans about six years ago, following a legendary 15-year run with that band. After a period of transition, Gira formed the more acoustically oriented "folk chamber" group Angels of Light.
Swans regularly assaulted its listeners with a sonic jackhammer of avant-garde guitar squall and spooky distorted crescendo. Club Congress was the location at least once--in the middle 1990s--of a Swans performance that shook the collective innards of its audience, most of whom trickled slowly out to the Tap Room to escape the onslaught. Those who remained heard and felt music of great beauty.
In contrast, Angels of Light caresses with a velvet glove of melancholic tenderness. Connecting the two are Gira's profound baritone--labeled "sepulchral" by more than a few critics--and his powerful lyrical evocations of love, remorse, degradation, the horror of the interior landscape and, ultimately, a search for salvation.
The search is documented on Angels of Light's debut album, the chillingly beautiful New Mother, released by Gira's Young God Records in 1999. That recording featured Gira with an assortment of musicians who boasted credits with such artists as the Residents, Iggy Pop, Lisa Germano, The Gun Club, Cop Shoot Cop, Congo Norvell, Rasputina and the Psychedelic Furs.
Since then, Gira has released three more Angels of Light recordings: 2001's How I Loved You, the aptly titled live set We Were Alive! in 2002, and this year's Everything is Good Here/Please Come Home. None of them has disappointed, nor has Gira's concept been compromised by the tampering of the major-label music business.
Among the instruments used to create the Angels of Light sound are lap steel guitars, mandolin, banjo, strings, vibraphone, analog synthesizer, Hammond B3 organ, hammered dulcimer, piano, accordion, loops, classical guitar, melodica, flute, Jew's harp and flugelhorn.
For the current tour, Angels of Light has become a four-piece. Along for the ride with Gira are Devendra Banhart, Christoph Hahn and Patrick Fondiller. In addition to leading Angels of Light and running Young God, Gira tirelessly maintains his independent label's Web site, an exhaustive archive of Swans and Angels information. On the Internet, he is able to clearly and concisely explain his mission and modus operandi as a musical artist.
"After 15 years of Swans, I was fed up," Gira writes on the site. "Angels is probably the kind of music I would have made had I continued Swans, but there was too much baggage attached to the name, and I guess I needed to psych myself and feel I'd moved on to something new. Unfortunately, I came along for the ride! Ha!"