Angels of Light: We Are Him

Photo: Drew Goren

We Are Him showcases a side of Michael Gira that shares more in common with, say, Jim Thirlwell than it does Johnny Cash.

Angels of Light

We Are Him

Contributors: Siobhan Duffy, Bill Rieflin, Akron/Family, Julia Kent, Larkin Grimm
Label: Young God
US Release Date: 2007-08-28
UK Release Date: 2007-08-27

When Michael Gira recruited Akron/Family and created The Angels of Light Sing "Other People" for his Angels of Light project, it had seemed as though a blanket of calm had enveloped his songwriting. Despite the occasionally frenetic and always interesting instrumentation that Akron/Family provided that album, Gira sounded largely at peace, dissecting the values and troubles of others while exuding a sort of storyteller's confidence; he became the omniscient narrator, and he was comfortable with his role. At the time, it was easy to assume that at his age, at this stage in his long and storied career, he was done shocking us. Gira seemed ready to settle down into a pattern of strong, confident songwriting and collaborations that brought out the myriad strengths in those strong, confident songs.

We Are Him blows that theory clear out of the water.

Perhaps it's the fact that Gira is once again putting himself into his work, as Lord knows it's more difficult to write honestly about oneself than about others. Perhaps it's the state of the world around him, by any account an increasingly chaotic and tense place. Or, perhaps, it's simply the wish to fully utilize the talents and open-ended instrumental techniques that having a backing band like Akron/Family provides. Whatever the driving force may be, the aggressive side of Gira has returned like a lion. It's a side that shares more in common with, say, Jim Thirlwell than it does Johnny Cash. Even as Gira has all but abandoned distortion as a means to an end, the naked quality that the clean instruments and vocals possess make these performances all the more striking. Perhaps the most memorable moment on the album is one in "My Brother's Man", a song filled with plenty of intentional dissonance and hypnotic tunelessness backed by what could be a blues riff if it wasn't stuck in permanent loop. "No, God will never understand / I crush him in my brother's hand / I am the God of this fucking land," he offers three quarters of the way through the song as the instruments drop out entirely, leaving him entirly alone with only his off-kilter, disturbed psyche.

It is the plain and clear display of that same psyche that makes Gira's words as meaningful as they are as well, even if the language he uses tends to avoid the literal. "There's steel in the air and there's blood on the wheels / But there's nothing to fear because nothing here's real", he sings in "Promise of Water", choosing evocative imagery over plain-spoken sentiment. When he does traverse into the literal as on songs like "Good Bye Mary Lou", the language for his kiss-off drifts into metaphor before snapping back to reality: "You're suspended in time / Hanging naked from a barbed wire pine", Gira sings before dropping a "Mary Lou...fuh, fuh, fuck you", startling the listener with bluntness. No, it's not eloquent, but sometimes, emotion is ugly.

Rouding out the sound is a veritable army of collaborators, everyone from former Ministry (and current R.E.M.!) drummer Bill Rieflin, who actually contributes far more than just percussion, to Antony and the Johnsons' Julia Kent, who adds some lovely tones via the cello. Most striking, however, is Siobhan Duffy, who actually sings a haunting solo line in "Not Here/Not Now" along with other vocal turns (with new Young God signing Larkin Grimm) that span the rest of the album; historically, some of Gira's most brilliant moments were his musical dialogues with Jarboe, a pairing that Duffy's presence can't help evoke for both her gender and the perfect integration of her contribution. This type of vocal interplay is the type of thing that we never knew we missed until it came back. And it's back.

Then there are the perfect moments of subtlety, like the timing of "Joseph's Song"'s transition from acoustic dirge to sunny '60s pop song, and the way the piano in "Sometimes I Dream I'm Hurting You" manages to be selective about the moments it copies the vocal melody. We Are Him rewards repeated listens with these little treats, Easter eggs of musical accomplishment that can bring a knowing grin to even the jaded listener.

Despite all of the shock and the awe, once We Are Him does settle into repeated listening, it never quite reaches the consistent, memorable heights of ...Other People. It's a choppy album, it never settles into any sort of rhythm, and the moments that stick, that haunt you for days after you've heard them, are few. It is, however, still a very, very good album by a wonderful artist who steadfastly refuses to go gentle into that good night. As long as Gira lives, he will continue to rage, it seems, and anyone who hears him do so will be a little bit better off for it.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.