The Angels of Light are everything Michael Gira didn't want his goth-noise band Swans to be: tender, gorgeous, and accessible. Swans' dirges moved with the speed and gravity of tectonic plates, the lyrics recalling the spite of Bob Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" without the backhanded charm. The Angels of Light sweeten the sour with a largely acoustic, folk-rock sound. But with singer-guitarist Gira's molasses-over-sandpaper growl and steady grimace featured prominently, he's still clinging to the shadows.
The third Angels of Light release, Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home is the best disc yet in Gira's enormous catalog. The album begins with "Palisades," a cascading ode to the steep New Jersey precipices that greet upper Manhattan. "Crossing the river/That leads to the cliffs," Gira croons, coloring his throaty timbre with a boyish innocence. Yet two songs later, he plunges back into the bucolic: The soft guitars of "Kosinski" jangle tentatively while strings ease in and out like deep breaths. Imagine John Cale swapping his viola for a fiddle and you're close to the track's hillbilly hum.
True to Gira's gloomy disposition, the album's prettiest cut, "What You Were," is an ode to a dead lover. He recalls intimate moments ("Your robe open wide/And your mouth to the side") with arresting clarity. The backing instruments--piano and chimes to start, with guitar, bass and drums later--mimic his drawling phrases, quickening and pausing with the gait of a sob, finally building to a mournful crescendo. "Sunset Park" sustains the peak with droning guitars, a strutting tempo, and layers of vocal tracks, while the closer, "What Will Come," slithers like the score to a David Lynch film.
Backed by accomplished musicians like Kid Congo Powers (a former member of the Cramps and the Bad Seeds) and ex-Pogue David Coulter, the album's sinister tone suggests a musical noir where trust is a four-letter word and love always begets pain. And Gira, often tricked out like a Raymond Chandler villain in a fedora and pale suit, fits the bill, delivering his guarded words with a gauzy croak. Everything Is Good Here/Please Come Home darkens the mood of Chandler's The Big Sleep. There are no dames here, only femmes fatales.
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