Michael Gira and The Angels of Light have released possibly their best album yet: a motley assortment of sounds, styles and instruments that, somehow, fits together perfectly.
Gira has a real talent for weaving strange melodies and unexpected sounds into an intricate background for his vocals, and he makes use of plenty on We Are Him. The album has a nice mix of emotional highs and lows. Just when you’ve been lulled into relaxation by some quiet, mellow meander, your ears are pricked with something harsh and demanding. You never have a chance to tire of any of it, because the constant changes refuse to let your mind rest for long.
We Are Him begins with “Black River Song,” which right away jars the listener into paying attention. Immediately following, “Promise of Water” resembles a mournful Celtic funeral march, with its plodding beat and sweet, sad violin, persistent in the background.
“Sometimes I Dream I’m Hurting You” starts out lyrical, peaceful, even. Mid-way through, the tempo rises, becoming more urgent; chaotic, bleating vocals mix with a steady thumping beat and what sounds like a church organ gone explosively awry. By the end it has become a psychedelic exploration of rock evocative of the Doors’ most accomplished offerings.
One of the prettiest songs on We Are Him is “The Man We Left Behind,” with its gentle back-and-forth sway and melancholy background bells. Gira comes in singing about a third of the way into the tune, with a vocal style reminiscent of Lou Reed’s in its haunting, untrained croon. With its saloon-piano rhythms, it’s a bit like a twangy country ballad.
Several of the songs on the album invite a trance-like state with their pulsing, insistent mantras. “Star Chaser,” “Not Here/Not Now,” and "We Are Him" come to mind. Powerful vocals and rhythmic hand-clapping elevate the title track to the level of a kaleidoscopic spiritual.
Then there’s the strangely poppy burst of “Sunflower’s Here to Stay.” It bounces along happily, punctuated periodically by loud, pounding drums.
Whatever musical influences or personal muses peek out from his music, Michael Gira leaves a distinctive stamp on all of his creations. We Are Him is more accessible than many of his past projects, while retaining its appeal for fans of Swansian darkness.
This is not an album to wash the dishes to. Or fold laundry to, or do anything else that distracts you at all from the beautiful, beautiful music. Take it in the car for a road trip through the desert at night. Listen to it lying down. And, as Gira urges in one of his hypnotic refrains, “just let go now … just let go.”