Michael Gira (pronounced jeh-rah, not jeer-uh or geer-uh) has always been a man of extremes. Whether it’s his vomit-inducing death blues of Swans or the high-end lo-fi of Angles of Light, he’s never been a man to tread the lukewarm land of the tepid. Once I remove the CD from the tray I’m stricken with the sight of Gira himself giving a morose —but politely so—stare that only hints at his capability of sin and loathing. The record itself does not divert from that general vibe. Gira’s charisma is one of disgust and solipsism so blunt it makes Nietzsche a shoe-in for any high school cheerleading squad. It’s certainly a shame that Mr. M gets little acknowledgment beyond his achievements in noise-mongering and pig fucking, as he has not shied away from being host to the lighter side of manmade sound within the confines of his remote log cabin of unfathomable sorrows.
Gira could serve as the teacher of a slew of budding college folksters who are hardly content trying to enlighten/seduce the beer-soaked Greek hordes and their progressive messiahs that assign X00 pages of Chomsky and call it learning. This is not to say that Gira is a bona fide folk musician, rather, he takes helpings of such supposedly introspective genres with more sincerely emotional and repetitive ones (i.e. blues) and sprinklings of zesty kraut rock and kneads the shit out of them with the calloused knuckles that are his droning croon and his ever so charming artistic vision.
With the help of some colleagues that have had their hands in the work of Robyn Hitchcock, Ministry, REM, Alice Donut, Akron/Family and Gira’s own Swans, We Are Him is a blissful affair that is just as shimmering and rich as it is heartless and puzzling. Gira’s production is intricately layered and clean. While a more indulgent mastermind would make a megalomaniacal catastrophe out of all the strings, horns, keys, robotic rhythms, “chick vocs” and other added effects, Gira is rather skilled in arrangement and finding a use for as much and as little as a given song needs.
The opener “Black River Song” is Euro post-punk within the confines of coffee house acoustics. It’s followed by the dark road ballad “Promise of Water” in which Gira beckons “when you open your mouth you’re too stupid to scream.” What follows after the establishing moods is nonetheless winding, dramatic and uncertain as Gira and his minstrels make surreal mincemeat out of artistically inclined rock and pop music’s conventions. “My Brother’s Man” is perhaps the most rock-tinged track. Some of the quieter songs are the most ominous, like “Sometimes I Dream I’m Hurting You.” “Goodbye Mary Lou” is a menacing country song of the likes not seen since the genre’s vindication as a contender alongside teen pop.
With just the Swans under his belt, Gira may or may not have had to hypothetically deal with his legacy as misanthropic brutalizer of the highest order since Boyd Rice—and I mean that lovingly. But it goes without saying that Mr. Gira is an aesthetic journeyman, and with Angels of Light, Gira is a kind of mean son of bitch who can belt out a pretty song like the rest of ’em.
Akron/Family – Akron/Family
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Let Love In
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man
MP3: “Black River Song”